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Is Poor PR Driving Construction's Labor Shortage?

by: René Morkos, Founder, ALICE Technologies
René Morkos, Founder, ALICE Technologies
René Morkos, Founder, ALICE Technologies
The global upheaval of the last few years has undoubtedly rocked the construction industry – and stories of labor shortages driven by COVID-19 abound. Add to that an aging workforce further stressed by current conditions, combined with a lack of skilled replacements, and the current struggle makes sense.

But beneath the obvious impact of pandemic-era challenges lies a larger question, at the heart of construction’s labor crisis – why are fewer young people entering the industry?

While industry unemployment continues to fall and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports significant hiring growth, retention of construction workers aged 54 and below is declining and entry of those aged 25 and below is lagging significantly compared to national labor force averages.

The truth is that we face a collective crisis deeper than that of recent years – a downtrend in job desirability, largely driven by public perception. Construction has, historically, been an industry driven by hard manual labor, combined with a skillset or knowledge unique to specific tasks. The perception of construction as an industry slow to adjust to the digital era – and the erosion of unions and other organizations, which offered incentives to workers in times past – hasn’t helped cultivate interest in a digitally centered generation, coming-of-age in the era of job insecurity.

In the U.S. the current labor shortage is significantly impacted by what is, essentially, a public relations crisis. Significantly rising wages still fail to meet the desires and motivations of a younger generation focused on digital skills-building, security, and work/life balance. Still, industry players can increase their likelihood of attracting, and keeping, new talent by focusing investments in a few key areas and highlighting the ways in which construction tech is changing the way we build the world.

Rework Job Descriptions
As simple as it sounds, simply refreshing the language used during hiring can help attract an entirely different demographic. A focus on opportunities for growth and advancement, as well as a description of the knowledge and skills workers will attain through on-the-job experience, can help attract younger workers to entry-level construction positions.
Provide Transitional Training
Historically, skilled workers were limited in their ability to progress into less physically demanding roles – after all, there are only so many supervisory positions to fill. As the adoption of construction-related technology creates more demand for tech-enabled white-collar positions, transitional training allows workers aging out of skilled labor to apply valuable industry-specific knowledge in new ways, while simultaneously enabling GCs and developers to retain experienced talent.
Improve Workforce Safety and Wellness
Construction is stressful, and physically demanding, and that takes its toll on the workforce. Industry leaders (such as Procore) are already introducing programs designed to bolster wellness through workforce education and access to health-focused training and resources. And adoption of tech-enabled safety gear can drastically reduce onsite injuries and exposure to occupational hazards – improving worker conditions, while mitigating stakeholder risk.
Automate Strenuous (and Repetitive) Labor
Like most other industries, the future of construction lies in automation and with it, a shift away from strenuous, repetitive physical labor. A recent in-depth study published by McKinsey emphasizes how automation of demanding and often dangerous physical tasks streamlines construction and frees up valuable resources – transitioning human workers to safer, less demanding supervisory roles. 
Embrace Innovation
From tech-enhanced wearables to 3D-printed concrete, today’s tech-forward tools for construction offer incredible opportunities for improving the lives of workers. Adoption of supportive technology helps GCs and developers gain a competitive edge, maximize workforce efficiency, and boost worker effectiveness and job satisfaction.
Offer Boosted Benefits
A solid benefits package sends a positive message to current and future employees and it can be an incredible draw for workers in physically strenuous roles. Investment plans incentivize employee loyalty while helping them plan for retirement and education reimbursement encourages ongoing professional development. Increased access to gym memberships, acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic services – as well as reasonable sick time, vacation, and family leave – will boost workforce health and wellbeing while improving both work/life balance and your business’s bottom line.
Invest in Digital Tools
Construction is teetering on the edge of a digital transformation. Tools for generative design, BIM, and AI-driven construction optioneering for complex projects are quickly shifting the way projects are planned, scheduled, and built, and roles centered on these tools are increasingly appealing to a generation of workers focused on tech-forward positions. Ongoing investment in digital software and tools – as well as relevant training for new hires and current employees – will help you attract and retain top talent interested in construction’s evolution.
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In order to attract workers in today’s labor market, the construction industry needs to reinvent its image. Appealing to the needs of an increasingly tech-forward workforce with a preference for skills-building positions that prioritize health and work/life balance is essential. By focusing on the above initiatives, industry leaders will create a cultural shift critical to recruiting and retaining top talent and position themselves to dominate the quickly shifting construction environment.

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