Construction Careers: Combating the Construction Labor Shortage

Written by Donna Laquidara-Carr, Director of Industry Insights Research on May 21, 2019

Since 2017, the USG+US Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index has revealed that the biggest challenge facing contractors today is the construction labor shortage. One of the most direct ways to tackle this construction worker shortage is to be able to draw more people to the industry. The research conducted by Dodge Data & Analytics for the Index in Q1 2019 featured construction careers as a spotlight topic, which helps provide a better understanding of the advantages of a career in construction and how those are typically misunderstood, the aspects of construction careers that may be most appealing to people under 30 and the challenges faced by a fragmented industry in recruiting its workers.

Skilled Worker Shortages and Their Impacts

Consistently, since Q1 2017, over half of the general and specialty trade contractors who participate in the quarterly Commercial Construction Index survey state that they have a high level of difficulty finding skilled workers, and less than 10% report low to no difficulty. The consequences of these challenges are increasingly evident, with 70% of contractors in Q1 reporting that, due to this issue, they are challenged to meet schedule requirements, 63% reporting that they put in higher bids for projects and 40% turning down work opportunities.

Construction Careers: Myth and Reality

Part of the challenge with drawing people into the construction industry appears to be the public misperceptions of it compared to the reality of working in this field. Contractors participating in the survey were asked to select the top three reasons they find construction to be a good career choice and the top three myths about working in this industry.

The most widely selected reason for working in construction is the earning potential, chosen by 70% of respondents. However, one of the top myths about construction as a career, according to 40% of respondents, is that you can’t support a family on construction pay. In addition, over half (56%) of contractors believe that one of the top ways to recruit more workers is, in fact, to develop a better reputation for this industry for high pay. The myth of low pay clearly perpetuates the construction labor shortage and needs to be debunked.

Many contractors also report that some of the top myths about construction careers are that it is a dirty job (selected in the top three by 61%), that it requires brute strength, not training (55%), and that it is just a job and not a real career (52%). However, these are again upended by the experience of contractors themselves. The second highest percentage (43%) regard the opportunities for career advancement as one of the top reasons that construction is a good career, and around one third also note the ability to gain skills on the job (37%) and diversity of work experiences (27%) as top aspects of their work. All of these demonstrate that for practitioners in the industry, construction is a rewarding career with satisfying, challenging work, a message that doesn’t seem to be heard by the public.

Recruiting Workers Under 30

Contractors were also asked about the top ways to attract more workers under 30 to the industry. Not surprisingly, high pay was selected by the highest percentage, and good benefits followed close behind. The next two means of attracting younger workers are related to construction as a career not a job (clear path for advancement) and the work itself (satisfaction derived from a career that involves making something). Again, the most important element appears to be upending the long-standing myths about working in construction to draw younger workers.

MD 2019 04 TopWays 388

Means of Recruiting New Workers

One structural challenge facing the construction industry in its goal to attract new workers is the fragmented ways in which they are recruited. Unlike the other questions in this spotlight survey, contractors were asked to identify all means for recruiting workers, not just the top three. However, no single recruitment strategy, not even placing traditional advertisements for workers, was selected by even half of the contractors surveyed. With no standard ways to find workers, it is not surprising that the positive message about construction careers can become diluted. This is a challenge that few small or midsize contracting companies are in a position to tackle effectively, and it may need to be addressed by larger institutions within the industry in order to address the growing crisis of the construction labor shortage.

Learn more about this topic in the Q1 2019 Commercial Construction Index report, available free here.

Listen to a podcast on this topic The “Dirty Jobs” Myth – Promoting Careers in Construction here.