How Can You Attract Workers With a Construction Labor Shortage?
Despite a strong economy the past few years, a construction labor shortage has left construction companies in a peculiar position. Even with the unemployment rate hovering at the lowest level in 18 years, it's becoming increasingly hard to find workers.
Citing information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Construction Executive noted that construction is the fastest-aging industry. The combination of retiring older workers and fewer younger workers is presenting many small- and medium-sized business owners with a huge problem: how to recruit enough people to keep the order flow running smoothly.
According to an analysis of 2015 Census data from the National Association of Home Builders, the median age for construction workers is 41. By job, construction and building inspectors are typically the oldest workers, at over 50. Construction managers, electricians, and cement masons also tend to be older than 40, while helpers, roofers, and insulation workers are usually on the younger side.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the hiring problem is particularly acute when it comes to workers under 24 years of age in the construction trades. Issi Romem, Chief Economist at construction data firm BuildZoom, found that the share of young workers declined nearly 30 percent from 2005 through 2016 in the U.S.
So, what can companies do to battle a construction labor shortage that could have long-term impacts on the industry?
A Shortage of Experienced Hands
The construction workforce is aging due in large part to the housing bust of the 1980s. According to insurance company The Hartford, baby boomers haven't been retiring at expected rates due to increased healthcare costs and decreased Social Security and pension payments.
"The industry took a stance that it would forego some of the training programs that were historically invested in," the Hartford said. "This lack of training is one of the reasons the construction industry now has a shortage of middle-aged, skilled workers who are ready to take leadership roles at this point in their careers."
This lack of skilled, middle-aged workers makes it even more important for firms to attract young construction specialists. According to recruitment firm MRINetwork, millennials — the generation born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s — give top priority to compensation and benefits. Construction firms should be prepared to offer competitive pay if they want to attract workers who may be considering a variety of career paths.
Build a Mentorship Program
One big plus for small and medium-sized businesses is that younger workers are increasingly willing to forego a college education — and the associated student debt problem — and opt for on-the-job training instead.
The Associated General Contractors of America recently suggested that one way to overcome the worker shortage is for companies to set up an apprentice program, which can make employees feel more valued and confident in their roles. Apprentice programs "connect job seekers with employers in the trades and let seasoned employees pass on skills to aspiring professionals, benefiting both employers and employees."
The Department of Labor offers a toolkit that provides guidance on how to build a registered apprenticeship program. With more than 500,000 registered apprentices nationwide, the program offers access to a network of other businesses facing similar challenges, and tax credits are even available in many states.
The program offers the following five tips:
- Explore apprenticeship as an option.
- Partner with other regional players.
- Build the core components of your program.
- Register your program.
- Launch your new program.
Tapping into an apprentice network not only can open doors in bringing folks on board; it helps your company train individuals up to a certain standard, setting your company up for success for the long term.
Offer Opportunities to Grow
Once you have workers aboard, one key way to retain employees — so you don't have to start the hiring process all over again — is to start a company program that helps workers learn new skills. Millennials seek out new challenges and often avoid boring routine. While they value their independence, they also realize the importance of being guided by more experienced workers on site. As MRINetwork's data showed, mentorship and advancement opportunities tied for second when it came to what millennials are looking for in a job.
Millennials are also influenced by how innovative the company itself is. According to "11 Key Tips for Hiring Millennials in Construction" by Deloitte, a consulting firm, if your company emphasizes "sustainable design, using new materials or employing new technology," it's important to highlight these aspects in your recruiting efforts, as they are attractive to younger workers. Other tips include making a path for advancement clear from the start and finding workers where they spend a lot of their time — online.
By employing these strategies, companies may find that they can build out their workforces, despite the challenges presented by the construction labor shortage.