It’s no secret that the US is currently facing a major labor shortage impacting many industries, especially construction. Although the construction industry is thriving, the need for skilled workers is increasing; but finding skilled employees is proving difficult. There is a real necessity for new construction projects, such as public housing, residential homes, commercial real estate, and public works, and mitigating these challenges is vital to the US economy.
History of the labor shortage in the US construction industry
The US labor shortage dates back to the period between 2007 and 2009, when the Great Recession caused a general economic decline. During this time, the construction industry lost approximately 1.5 million workers, according to FRED. Many of those without a job did not return to the industry. Combine that with the challenge to attract new talent into construction and behold the looming skilled labor shortage of today which has caused infrastructure to be neglected.
Not only is it that the Great Recession had a detrimental impact on the labor shortage the industry now faces but talent attraction is also cause for concern. The construction industry is frequently challenged by myths and misconceptions, especially when it comes to recruiting young people (aged 16 to 24). The construction industry faces an aging workforce. In 2019, 37.8% of the US construction workforce was aged 45 to 64, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There is a real problem with younger people’s lack of interest in construction as a career path. The construction industry needs to adjust its recruitment strategies to attract Gen Z and millennial job seekers to deal with the skilled labor shortage. US employers are having difficulty filling jobs, and employers are finding it harder to fill blue-collar positions than those where a college education is required.
Construction is mostly seen as hard hats and hi-vis jackets, and although that perception is true to an extent, employers also need to highlight alternative opportunities within the industry. Give them the facts and break the myths.
How to attract Gen Z and millennials
Addressing the labor shortage head-on is vital to productivity, and to bridge the skills gap, employers need not only to attract Gen Z members and millennials but also to retain them. Millennials and Gen Z members are not afraid of career changes and don’t follow the typical career ladder — to them, it’s more like a career zigzag. These two age groups are totally reshaping the workforce. They are diverse, socially aware and driven by lasting values. When seeking employment, Gen Z members, particularly, are on the lookout for particular benefits such as career development, flexibility at work, and creative perks.
Non-linear career paths are considered the new norm for Gen Z members and millennials in particular. Their visions also prioritize responsibility, diversity, and inclusion. So employers need to step up, keep up with young people’s hunger to learn, and empower them to explore their options.
Construction employers need to get out there and educate young people on the opportunities they offer — but how can they do this?
Attending career fairs and developing educational outreach programs is one way to do this. Highlight the career opportunities that your firm provides; young people gravitate towards options where they can grow and develop. Outlining career advancement is another sure way to attract Gen Z members and millennials.
These young generations rank social responsibility as a factor when applying for a job. Showcasing your commitment to corporate social responsibility is a must in aligning your company with the preferences of young people. They are looking for firms that get involved with community activities.
We all know that Gen Z members are digital natives, so it only makes sense that developing a social recruitment program will help you find young hires. Gen Z members and millennials spend a large amount of time online and construction firms need to do the same to highlight their recruitment opportunities and give an inside look at what goes on inside the firm on a day-to-day basis.
Busting the myths
There is a common misconception surrounding the construction industry being only about high-vis clothing, hard hats and danger. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Construction is a multi-billion dollar industry and involves complex tasks and thinking outside the box.
The struggle to attract young people stems from the myths they’ve been exposed to. There are so many opportunities for young people to work their way up the corporate ladder into roles such as management, training, engineering, educating and even setting up their own business — they just need to be exposed to the opportunities, to begin with.
We hear on a regular basis the view that construction is a man’s industry. Again, many women work within construction and the industry itself is leading the way to bridge the pay gap among genders, yet this is one of the US’s largest untapped labor pools. With this stigma still existing, fewer and fewer young women are entering the trade. Breaking this stereotype will bring firms one step closer to ending the labor shortage.
Another mistaken belief is that construction work is dangerous. This might have been the case in previous years, but since 1970, it has become compulsory to meet the standards outlined by the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
A lot of these perceptions are a thing of the past. In reality, careers in the industry can pave the way for success in many different positions. Employers just need to get the message out there and show Gen Z members and millennials that today’s construction industry is completely different from what they perceive it to be.
Can technology help with the labor shortage?
Although the construction industry has been slow in utilizing technology to optimize schedules and increase productivity, companies are beginning to embrace it and rightly so.
Smart technology is decreasing project costs and speeding up work. It is also freeing up workers’ time from menial tasks so they can focus on the more skilled areas. From drones to wearables, 3D modeling and VR, technology has had a huge impact on the construction industry. Construction companies need to highlight how they use these and how they improve health and safety and productivity to entice young workers.
Young workers are lacking in experience and skills compared to their seasoned colleagues, but they can benefit from technology being deployed on job sites. Investing in talent attraction and technology advancements does have the power to drive the industry forward. Looking at the facts, construction companies can deal with the labor shortage sooner rather than later. But to do that, they must rise to the challenge and improve and adjust their talent attraction practices.
This is a guest post from Simon Bell, the founder and director of careermap.co.uk, an online career resource for students, career advisers and teachers. Careermap provides career support for schools and colleges.