As prices for materials, equipment, labor and shipping continue to rise due to unprecedented inflation in the United States and various supply chain crises, deadlines for both non-residential and residential construction continue to stretch. In general, a universal truth in analyzing a labor shortage: Productivity falls when the labor supply is tight. In short, projects are more expensive and take much longer than they should.
“Construction employment has stalled in many states, even though construction companies have many projects that need more employees due to shortages of skilled workers,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), in reference to an analysis by Federal employment data released by the AGC in late July 2022. “Only half of the states saw construction employment increase over the past month.”
In this returning Bridging the Gap series, experts have covered simulators to help new hires better understand their future jobs, the concept of investing in training new and current hires, and the idea of making construction a tech job for Gen Z workers to invest. This column was about automating subcontractor roles like scheduling, payments, and documentation. She has touted the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) as an excellent opportunity for job creation in the United States. There are also handy tips for reaching out to potential employees — from offering part-time work for retirees to old-school job postings at local hangouts.
Less touched on revolutionizing a work culture has been the destigmatization of the preconceived notion that construction is a dirty, unwanted job or a dead end. This month, here are some back-to-basics tips to turn the often-negative conversation surrounding construction as a profession into a positive dialogue:
Say that: “This is an active and rewarding job. You can be outside and work while being physically active, while still getting the intellectual stimulation to analyze job sites, solve problems on the fly, and be detail-oriented.”
Not: “This is a tough job and you have to be comfortable with the dirt, grime and possible injuries.”
The world needs infrastructure buildings and roads, and multifamily housing to solve a nationwide housing shortage and affordability problem. Builders are vital to this progression. In addition, many US workers are not meant to sit at a computer and mallet thousands of chats or emails every day; Their skills are better suited to hands-on work and construction, whether it’s fine-tuning construction site plans or operating high-tech equipment. The physical satisfaction of these opportunities is what construction hiring managers should be touting.
Say that: “You will learn about and operate incredible equipment, and improved technology has made these machines comfortable, efficient and much safer.”
Not: “Anyone can be an operator.”
While most inexperienced new hires can be trained to become excellent operators, the focus during the interview and onboarding process should be the career opportunity and work environment. New hires will be paid between 3.4% and 4.17% more than employees hired before 2022, according to the latest Contractor Compensation Quarterly (CCQ) published by PAS, Inc. as reported by more than 340 companies in the 40th quarter. Issuance of Construction / Construction Supervisor Salary Survey. According to a March 2022 McKinsey report titled “Bridging the Labor Mismatch in US Construction,” these higher-paid workers want more autonomy, work-life balance, and a safe, comfortable, and positive work environment. The implication that they are expendable or expendable as employees will not work in the hiring manager’s favour. A hiring manager should aim to find employees who fit well into the workplace culture, not just a warm body to run the equipment.
Say that: “Education for a construction career can be an excellent alternative to the traditional four-year college or university. And due to the automation of high-level machines, it can be like a technical job on certain job sites.”
Not: “If you don’t have a degree, you might as well get a job in construction and make some money.”
Earning a living wage is important, but upward mobility and a sense of being valued at a company matter to most people. Instead of wording recruitment ads with an “oh good” tone that suggests HR believes building is a dead end, focus on the benefits, both intellectual and financial. A lack of student loan debt alone can put young construction workers well ahead of their Gen Z peers financially. Additionally, these higher paying jobs with more disposable income without student loan debt are also more secure and appealing than in the past. The increasing automation and machine control of high-tech equipment, from 3D guidance to automated bulldozers to CFS (Cold Framed Steel) automations and pre-engineered options are allowing new employees to learn both the technology and the craft of what ultimately to a more robust, educated workforce.
Say that: “If you like statistics, estimating is a great way to break into the construction industry.”
Not: “There are no opportunities in construction for people who don’t want to work on construction sites.”
There are also many opportunities for those interested in administrative, accounting and other office-related tasks related to construction.
Say that: “The U.S. government is actively working with building associations and companies to open up avenues into the construction industry for women, people of color, and immigrants.”
Not: “You could feel left out in this industry.”
Currently, 88 percent of construction workers are white and 89 percent are men, according to the March 2022 McKinsey report “Bridging the Labor Mismatch in US Construction.” Attracting more diverse talent as quickly as possible is imperative, and McKinsey says employers should consider working with non-traditional sources of talent, such as veteran transition programs, ex-convicts and immigrants.
AGC officials recently urged the US government to allow employers to sponsor more foreign-born workers and support better professional and technical training to expand opportunities for workers to improve their construction skills. Similarly, the federal government’s IIJA should encourage training partnerships as part of the recently announced Talent Pipeline Challenge, which the White House hopes to use to create pathways to quality jobs for women, people of color, and underserved workers — including those from rural and Indigenous communities and people who live in perpetual poverty. Christopher Herbert, executive director of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, told the House Ways and Means Committee at its July 13 hearing that the construction industry’s talent pool needs to be expanded to include more women and immigrants . According to the National Association of Homebuilders, as of 2021, about 25% of all US-based construction workers were immigrants. Immigration reform, Herbert said, would be a way to increase the supply of labor available to builders to hire and speed up currently overdue construction schedules in the United States.
Opportunities for non-traditional workers are growing exponentially, creating the potential for a much more diverse construction workforce than ever before. Recruiters and employers now need to ensure their recruitment communications, interviewing and hiring techniques, and onboarding processes are fully articulated and as comprehensive as possible when making those much-needed new hires.