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Over the past few years, we have all read the countless headlines filled with an overwhelming amount of anecdotal evidence and statistics suggesting the construction industry, and other industries that employ skilled tradespeople, are rapidly approaching a skilled labor shortage. The response to remedy these challenges has been to rely on antiquated managerial practices, which is costing the industry billions of dollars.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018 the construction industry employed over eight million skilled tradespeople. While this may seem like enough, the median age of those workers is not on the industry’s side, 40% were reported to be aged 45 years or older and 20% aged over 55 years. Companies must look at their core workforce and begin to prepare for a mass exodus of baby boomers leaving the trades for retirement over the next ten years. Adding to this problem is that for every five tradespeople who retire, only two people are entering the trades.
Skilled labor shortages on projects lead to increased labor costs, lower productivity, lower quality, more rework, longer schedule, increased incidents of safety, project start delays and project cancellations accord to the Construction Labor Market Analyzer. However, the reality is, if the industry worked towards achieving a mere 1% increase in labor productivity, an estimated $7 billion would be saved every year.
Considering these facts, the industry must address what factors are presenting roadblocks to choosing a career path in the trades. One of the largest barriers is the lack of investment in Career and Technical Education (CTE) in both secondary and post-secondary studies. The government’s educational funding for traditional colleges and universities is 13 times higher than what is available for CTE programs collectively. This leads to a lack of exposure and a poor image of a career in the skilled trades. When in retrospect, the construction industry provides gainful, long-term employment options for people who seek a career path outside of the traditional four-year college pathway.
However, it goes without saying that a career as a tradesperson in this industry is not for the faint of heart. We work in extreme weather conditions, confined spaces, and the daily tasks, by nature, are labor intensive. In addition, our industry has the highest rate of suicide, according to the CDC, and the fourth highest on-the-job mortality rate among all industries, according to Statista. However, supporting our future workers to pursue CTE studies and continuously educating them on safety, physical and mental health and industry best practices, we can work towards reducing these statistics.
Select industry partners are refining recruiting techniques by crafting a positive narrative and image about jobs in construction and the pathways that lead to a prosperous career. However, for this to be successful, it is imperative that companies address their project site culture and focus on the retention efforts. Over the years, our industry has adapted to address safety issues and how it directly affects profitability. With the increase of technological resources available to our industry, having building information modeling (BIM), drone, and virtual design and construction (VDC) technology interwoven into projects, the day-to-day productivity of job sites benefits.
Even with these strides, reluctance to adjust our field management techniques is contributing to high turnover rates, especially for young adults entering the workforce. Our world today is much more technologically advanced than it was 20 years ago. Smart phones and tablets put an abundance of information at our fingertips at all times, it has changed the way we approach every aspect of our life. We have yet to adopt advanced thinking for our jobsite culture. Today’s young adults often value companies with a clear mission, diversity and inclusion program, purpose and culture over a career solely based on the financial benefits .
By integrating intentional steps that bolster psychological safety, we need to shift from antiquated field management techniques to employing field employee engagement that increases productivity. Psychological safety is defined as a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. Google’s Project Aristotle found that psychological safety is imperative to making a team work. With construction being full of hardworking men and women from a variety of skilled trades, it is important to remember as a team we are all working towards the same end goal, project completion – that is on time, on budget, and with no loss-time incidents. It is critical that our project teams collaborate effectively and psychological safety will ensure that our legacy talent can transfer their knowledge, relationships and trade secrets with confidence that they are molding the future of their trade, while industry newcomers feel that they are in a safe environment to be trained, retrained, invested in and ultimately, promoted.
Technology is paramount to implementing programming and engaging with employees. There are social networking sites specifically for tradespeople that allows them to openly share their experiences, challenges and showcase their craftsmanship. Clayco, one of the nation’s largest privately-owned real estate, architecture, engineering, design-build and construction firms, recently invested in software that allows staff to mentor and connect tradespeople to the community resources needed to garner continued success in our industry, while also tracking the impact of the team’s and subcontractor partners’ efforts on the communities we serve and represent.
While the path laid before us appears daunting, the resiliency of our industry to solve problems, like we do on a daily basis, and tackle our challenges one step at a time, will help to build, retain and inspire our workforce, both current and future.