Americans have likely gotten used to seeing “Help Wanted” signs on the doors of nearly every business they step foot in, but what about the industries where the need for talented workers isn’t as outwardly visible? The current US labor crisis is not limited to consumer industries, but expands to almost every industry imaginable. The construction field has been hit especially hard by the shortage in skilled labor compared to the demand, resulting in several construction projects struggling.
Many have argued that people don’t want to work, but that simply isn’t the case. In the two years since the height of the pandemic, the US unemployment rate has lowered to a level nearly equivalent to what it was in 2019 before COVID-19 caused several industries to shut down for a time. Yet, even though unemployment is still low, job vacancies are higher. This has created an intense demand for labor, especially in skilled fields like construction.
The construction industry workforce has been aging
Part of the challenge that the construction industry faces regarding its workforce is that the COVID-19 pandemic pushed older workers of the baby boomer generation into early retirement. As a result, the number of workers available in the industry has decreased significantly, because the workforce has been aging. “In addition to the intense need for labor in general, the industry needs younger workers to enter the industry who will be able to stay in the workforce for longer,” says Matt DiBara, co-founder of The Contractor Consultants.
The decrease that there has been in the construction industry in workers aged 25-54 is particularly troubling. These are the workers who will have the training and ability required to progress into leadership positions. Workers younger than 25 may not have the experience to step up, while those over the age of 54 might not have the physical capacity for the more strenuous duties of the job.
The increased demand for construction projects
Both the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in November — along with the stimulus bonuses from federal COVID-19 relief funds — have been tremendous booms for the construction industry. Construction projects are growing in number, yet the workforce is decreasing, meaning progress is stalling out. To fulfill this need, the construction industry must recruit hundreds of thousands more workers in addition to the regular pace of hiring.
The housing shortage in the US has also substantially increased the demand for construction laborers. As more houses need to be built, there is a heightened need for skilled workers to build them. “When the housing market crashed a decade ago, construction of homes significantly slowed down, and it has not returned to pre-crisis levels,” says DiBara, “Now that the need for housing has increased, the rate of production is not keeping up with the demand.”
Making the construction industry more appealing for workers
The first step that the construction industry needs to take to facilitate the growth of the workforce is to embrace competitive pay. Compared to other occupations that don’t require a college degree, construction can be a viable option for those who learn the skills and pursue the necessary training to succeed in the job. Ensuring that there are opportunities for growth will also go a long way — a job may pay well initially, but the best employees will want to develop. If you do not provide that for them, they will not stick around.
Another thing construction companies must do to alleviate this worker shortage is accelerate onboarding and training. Many of the trade school programs that used to provide the training that new workers need have taken a long time to get back to speed after the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies can compensate for this by training new employees quickly and in-house, providing them with the skills they need to succeed in the industry.
Employee retention in the construction industry is also crucial. Listening to employee feedback will ensure that workers are happy and will continue to stay in the field. There is no debating that construction is taxing, strenuous work, and many workers have left the industry for less physically-demanding, better-paying jobs in other fields. To retain employees, the construction industry must prove itself to be a continuously viable employment opportunity; one that will pay workers what they deserve for the job’s effort.
By continuing to prove a competitive industry for employees, the construction field can overcome some of these difficulties related to the labor shortage in the US. “As the demand for housing and other construction projects continues to increase, and shows no signs of slowing down, employers must identify how they can make themselves attractive to new employees while retaining their current workers,” says DiBara, “Then, hopefully, they will be able to match pace with the demand.”