Closing Construction's Skilled Labor Gap with Technology
By Chad Hollingsworth, CEO, Triax Technologies
The face of construction has changed dramatically over the last decade. When the recession hit in 2008, over two million skilled workers - almost forty percent of the workforce - left the industry when they were unable to find work and never returned. Today, the skilled workers who remained are reaching retirement age, and baby boomers across industries are retiring at a rate of 10,000 workers per day.
As construction spending in the nation hits pre-recession levels and workforce demographics continue to shift, the industry is struggling to attract enough workers to meet the growing backlog. While mid-20th century Americans who wanted to secure a spot in the middle class saw construction as a stable, life-long profession, that is no longer the case for younger Americans.
Many millennials, who have pursued four-year college degrees and are concerned about company culture and professional development, tend to overlook construction and the trades entirely. Also, since technology is an integral part of their daily lives and construction is one of the least digitized industries, it doesn't help the industry's image. A 2017 National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) study found that only 3 percent of young adults aged 18 to 25 who knew which career they wanted to pursue would choose construction.
With job growth in construction expected to double the national average over the next decade, and nearly three-quarters of general contractors reporting having difficulty finding skilled workers this year, something clearly needs to change.
Following are some key strategies construction firms can follow to counter the industry's low-tech, uncool perception and help attract new workers to the field.
Embrace a Culture of Innovation and Continuous Improvement: An organization's culture can be a talent magnet. Hindered by inertia - "This is the way we've always done things" - and traditionally low profit margins, the construction industry has tended to favor a conservative, risk-averse mindset. To attract millennials, however, and remain competitive, construction firms should adopt a mindset that challenges the status quo and focuses on data-driven continuous improvement.According to Gallup research, more than ever, younger workers are "consumers of the workplace" and shop around for jobs that they feel align with their needs and life goals. This willingness to switch jobs and companies presents a substantial challenge - but also an opportunity for organizations committed to appealing to these candidates. By establishing a collaborative environment, offering mentorship programs, promoting two-way communication between the jobsite and corporate office, or even allowing for flexible work arrangements, construction companies can break from their old-school, conservative reputation.Additionally, millennials want to feel engaged in their work and want opportunities to actively grow and progress in their role. By prioritizing new construction technologies and encouraging each employee to research and champion emerging products, firms can attract millennials who equate a digital workplace with on-the-job learning and advancement.Millennials also want to work for managers who are invested in - and deeply care about - their ultimate success and well-being. As such, it's important for management to emphasize technologies and data-driven practices that promote safety. Also, by providing workers with tools to actively report site hazards or injuries and involving them in the continuous refinement of protocols based on experience and data, construction organizations can create opportunities for engagement.Connect the Jobsite - and Industry: A construction worksite is an inherently challenging and complex environment, and as a result, technology providers have tended to stay away from the industry. With low profit margins, tight project timelines and budgets, and competing priorities for contractors, the digitally connected jobsite has remained just out of reach. This has caused the majority of construction professionals to rely on manual processes for collecting and analyzing project information, in contrast to the digital progress that other industries have realized.The recently introduced ConstrucTech ecosystem is changing all that, enabling jobsite connectivity and visibility to help contractors optimize their current workforce and promote worker safety. Mobile applications, cloud-based software, drones, wearables, and other sensor-based technologies are now connecting stakeholders and streamlining communication. When a worker can view the latest blueprints - altered by the architect minutes earlier - or a project manager can coordinate change-orders the moment they are processed, construction organizations can do more with less and help close the labor gap. This is only the first step in creating a connected jobsite, which will allow workers to fully participate in project safety, scheduling, data collection, and analysis in real-time - without leaving their post.
Whether it's rebuilding our nation's infrastructure or building smart cities, construction continues to be fundamental to the U.S - and global - economy. By embracing digital technologies, construction firms can benefit from streamlined processes, greater efficiency, and a more attractive workplace environment for tech-savvy workers - and at the same time, position themselves for success in today's competitive marketplace.