The construction industry is on the road to a major labor crisis. ABC figures show the U.S. construction workforce shortage topped half a million going into 2023. The sudden rise in labor-intensive infrastructure megaprojects means there is now a heightened demand for workers. But older, highly experienced workers leaving the industry and a lack of younger skilled workers entering the industry, is creating a deep and growing imbalance in construction workforces. This article explains how construction businesses can remain competitive in the job market, attracting new talent while retaining existing talent with a cultural reset—led by innovative construction technologies.
The construction labor pool is experiencing increasing pressure on two fronts. The new Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Chips and Science Act have propelled developments in infrastructure and chip foundries, creating a boom in construction megaprojects and therefore, a dramatic increase in demand for labor. However, on the flip side, the pandemic and subsequent Great Resignation meant a lot of highly skilled workers retired from the industry, taking with them the deep knowledge and expertise only attainable through years of experience.
This, coupled with the low uptake of younger workers into the construction and engineering industry has created the conditions for a workforce crisis. This labor shortage is set to last well into the future unless things change. The need for strategic action to bridge the gap between the older generation exiting and the younger generation entering the workforce is clear.
1. ATTRACT NEW TALENT
Time for some image control—fixing construction’s low-tech reputation: Construction and engineering as an industry has become an increasingly unattractive career prospect for younger generations. This is due to misconceptions around the traditional nature of the industry. Recent research found that 23% of high school students disagreed that skilled trades work with cutting-edge technology, while in the same survey, 89% of skilled tradespeople stated they did in fact work with cutting-edge technology.
Here the adoption, use, and promotion of innovative technologies in the industry could breakdown the low-tech image the construction and engineering sector has acquired and appeal to the tech native generation of workers, who are looking for careers where they can use the technologies they have grown up with and are used to using in their personal lives at work.
Breaking new ground—exciting tech is the best way to bring in the internet generation: Innovative technologies have a key role to play in making the construction and engineering industry more accessible to younger, inexperienced workers. Augmented Reality (AR) and other remote technologies can help make the onboarding process more engaging and can make training safer, as trainees can gain real-hand experience necessary to learn key trade skills in a low-risk environment, away from hazards which inexperienced workers would be more vulnerable to.
Construction businesses can use the adoption of technological work processes to provide the new generation of construction workers with opportunities to work with innovative technologies and gain new tech-related skills in the line of work, such as, using BIM design tools and 3D modeling, financial planning and project control technologies, and IoT monitoring and digital twins programs. These are crucial skills in the new industrialized construction model and will appeal to the tech savvy younger worker.
2. RETAIN EXPERIENCED TALENT
Ensure the older generation of construction workers aren’t left out of the tech revolution: The labor-intense nature of construction and engineering activity often means that this type of work can be more challenging for workers as they age, which can cause many to leave the industry. Here, remote technologies can be used to increase the safety of all workers, but particularly older workers by providing more opportunities to work offsite or to offer support quickly and efficiently on-site. Other innovative support technologies, such as, wearables that can monitor workers’ physical conditions and can alert workers to nearby hazards that may be difficult for them to perceive will help make the industry more accessible for older workers.
With the introduction of new industrialized construction models and technologies, businesses should also provide training for older workers in these new technologies to help upskill workers, progress the careers of older workers and ensure all workers, regardless of age, are able to make use of the technologies that are revolutionizing construction and engineering processes in a safe and secure manner.
Don’t lose valuable industry expertise—flexibility and options for late careers are necessary to retain talent: The use of technology and industrialized construction models, such as, remote technologies and modular construction, can help to streamline construction project processes, reducing the amount of labor needed to complete projects. This means that greater job flexibility can be offered to older workers who have families or are nearing retirement and wish to reduce workload without leaving the workforce entirely. This will provide workers with flexibility so they don’t have to choose between work and retirement but can do a happy medium. An increased range of options for later careers is necessary to avoid forcing older workers out of the workforce before they are ready or want to.
Businesses can also establish consultancy and mentorships programs for older workers of retirement age. Overseeing and advising on projects or training up and mentoring the next generation of workers is vital to ensure these important skills can be passed on to the next generation and offers older workers a way to continue to engage with the industry they have dedicated many years to. This means businesses are able to retain the experience and knowledge of older workers, while older workers can continue working at a pace and intensity that best suits them.
3. IMPROVE WORKFORCE AND PROJECT OPTIMIZATION—THEY DESERVE IT!
Ensure project management isn’t doing a disservice to construction workers: Solving the construction labor crisis isn’t just about having a larger number of workers. Businesses also need the right tools to enable their teams to perform at their best. Advanced project planning and procurement technologies will help construction businesses ensure they have the right equipment and materials ready at the right time, so their workers are able to do their jobs and also ensure workers and subcontractors are paid on time and for the right number of hours—fostering good working relations with construction teams.
The first step is getting control of a construction business and ensuring project managers have accurate, real-time information about how their projects are performing. By integrating improved systems for project planning, procurement and execution, some IFS construction customers have reported an 18% productivity increase per user.
It’s also important to have teams who are well-trained in the new technologies entering the industry. Having a highly skilled workforce in both new technologies and core trade skills is invaluable to optimize project delivery. In turn, construction businesses will be able to reap the benefits of true project optimization.
Wake-up call to use technology to create cross-generational collaboration: Bridging the gap between different generations of construction workers means supporting older generations with more flexible working options and attracting younger generations with exciting tech options, but also providing both groups with the opportunities to upskill across the board.
Technology promotes employee welfare and worksite safety, provides new skills, and improves job accessibility and flexibility while laying the foundation for new working models. There is something to be gained for everyone.
But most importantly, this labor crisis is a wake-up call to encourage the collaboration between different generations through mentorship and training to help pass on experience and skills—from one generation to the next.
About the Author:
Kenny Ingram is vice president of construction and engineering at IFS. For more, visit www.ifs.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions, June 2023
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