The Bureau of Economic Analysis has reported a 9% drop in the construction industry’s contribution to the country’s GDP from the fourth quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2014. A big part of this was due to a decline in nonresidential construction from January to March—a result of a series of inclement weather events.
But a closer look at how the industry has fared since the recession shows us that the curveball was thrown not by Mother Nature, but by a force much closer to home: labor. While the trend has been observed throughout the U.S., the situation has been especially bleak here in the South, where as much as 73% of construction companies have reported a labor shortage within the past year.
For those of us in construction, a scarcity in skilled labor is almost as big a disaster as anything the weather can throw our way. While it is true that the total number of professionals is higher this year than it was last year, the current downturn is symptomatic of a more severe and long-term trend—one that has been hurting the industry since 2008. We’re talking not of a shortage of workers per se, but of “adequately trained, skilled, and productive workers available for certain jobs,” as the Institute of Management and Administration (IOMA) puts it.
Why is this happening?
There are several reasons behind the dwindling construction workforce, the biggest of which, perhaps, is the inherent difficulty in recruiting and replacing experienced workers in a highly technical field. A study by the Associated Schools of Construction (ASC) also points out the following reasons:
- the low appeal of blue-collar jobs for young people
- the aging workforce
- the lack of opportunities for training and ongoing education
- the lack of promotion opportunities for those already in this line of work
The Construction Labor Research Council (CLRC) has further predicted that as many as 185,000 new workers will have to be recruited and trained each year until 2016 to even things out and make industry growth not only possible, but sustainable. That’s quite a challenge!
What is the industry doing about it?
The silver lining is that the industry is just as resilient as the fruits of our labors. Contractors all over the country are increasing staff salaries to discourage resignation. Many of us are also developing, perfecting, and implementing training programs to build on our existing professionals’ skill sets. These include:
- Informal on-the-job training. Foremen and other on-site job supervisors teach their crew about best industry practices before and during a project. 81% of industrial contractors implement this kind of training.
- In-house classroom- and curriculum-based training. These structured programs are preferred by 88% and 62% of contractors, respectively. Some contractors use the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) curriculum for in-house training.
- Outsourced training. About half of the contractors that depend on outsourced training fund their employees’ education in vocational schools. Other options include union apprenticeship programs and certification programs conducted by manufacturers.
As professionals in the construction industry, our job during this labor crisis is twofold: (a) to make the industry more attractive to both old and new blood, and (b) to continue to provide dedicated, high-quality service to our clients. We cannot afford to focus on one responsibility at the expense of the other.
Yes, there is a labor shortage, but the last thing we’re going to do is use that as an excuse to deliver sub-par service. We’re tough cookies, after all, and it’ll take more than this to make us crumble.
Jesse Curry is a professional roofing contractor and the owner of Roofing by Curry based in Florida. His greatest strengths are his creativity, drive and leadership. He thrives on challenges, particularly those that expand the company’s reach. He is very passionate about what he does and loves to share his experiences with other people through his blog site: http://www.roofingbycurry.com/our-blog/.