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Bridging the Gap

In recent years, headlines of a slumping economy and surging unemployment rate have dominated the news. Slowly but surely, the economy is improving, people are going back to work, and new construction projects are breaking ground every day.

While this is great news, the construction industry is faced with a new set of problems — a predicted labor shortage. With an uptick in new construction projects and owners reviving others they may have shelved, the demand for skilled labor is beginning to exceed the number of craftspeople available to complete the work.

Experts attribute this dramatic shift to a few key reasons: the Great Recession, an aging workforce, and a decline in younger construction professionals. These factors have not only contributed to a shrinking pool of craftspeople, but they have also created intense competition for those who are available, changing the way owners and contractors operate.

Though the recession was declared officially over in June 2009, construction companies nationwide are still reeling from its effects. During the recession, many in the industry found other careers out of necessity, and a large number did not — and have no desire to — return to construction, making it harder to find enough skilled craftspeople to properly staff a job.

A lack of available talent is not the only setback; age is quickly becoming an issue with construction veterans and new graduates alike. According to market research and strategy firm FMI, baby boomers are retiring at a shocking rate, with approximately 10,000 workers hanging it up every day. While not all are from the construction industry, baby boomers do heavily populate many industrial, engineering, and construction firms. They are not only leaving the industry with a physical gap to fill, but they are also taking with them their experience, knowledge, and leadership that need to be shared with younger generations in the field.

On top of all that, fewer young workers are entering the industry or majoring in construction. The number of construction and engineering graduates peaked six years ago, and the number entering the field is declining, creating gaps in construction and management positions and leaving many companies without a strong succession plan. Those majoring in construction or engineering are seeing as many as five job offers before graduation, which means fierce competition among contractors to land an entry-level employee.
Many firms have found one way to gain an edge in that competition is to implement aggressive internship and college recruiting programs. By getting in with college students early and offering them internships that can ultimately lead to jobs, it creates a pipeline of fresh, new talent. Companies that employed this strategy five to seven years ago are now finding it easier to fill mid-level and senior management positions.
Colleges and universities are also taking matters into their own hands and educating future generations about construction as a career. As an example, faculty members at Kansas State University, in conjunction with their partners in the industry, are taking the initiative to get the word out to high school counselors, trade schools, and military veteran groups that construction management is a viable option and can lead to a successful career.
As the market continues to evolve, contractors and owners will find ways to work more efficiently and increase productivity with the resources available. Educating and partnering with college students and younger generations to infuse talent into a company is a great place to start.