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Ramping Up Your Construction Workforce

by: Andy Holtmann, Viewpoint
The work is out there. Billions of dollars’ worth of new construction projects are getting the green light, and the future looks bright for contractors that can do the work. After the last few years of a pandemic, economic downturns, construction workforce strains, rising costs, and supply chain issues, this is welcome news.

As the last few of our Quarterly Construction Metrics Index reports have shown, more and more contractors have been planning ahead, reserving cash, modernizing their construction operations, and getting early jumps on hiring in order to maximize efficiencies and profit for these future projects. The passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, expansion of new construction markets like semiconductors, warehousing and clean fuel and technology facilities, and more have put proactive and agile contractors in the driver’s seat to control their own destinies.

Yet, one major challenge remains. Who is actually going to do the work?

Construction Labor Shortage Woes
Since the mid-2000s recession that saw thousands of skilled construction professionals gravitate to other industries when they were handed pink slips during a particularly tough economic period, the construction industry has since been saddled with a significant construction labor shortage. Most of those workers did not come back once the economy recovered, and attracting new, younger workers since then has been a daunting task.

Despite great pay, younger generations have largely seen construction as too dangerous, too labor intensive, and too technologically antiquated for their liking. They are also wary of construction’s career path opportunities and lack of diversity. The construction industry has gone to great lengths – especially over the past few years – to change these narratives, and younger professionals are starting to slowly gravitate back to potential construction careers. But it’s still a feeding frenzy when it comes to construction hiring – with far more open positions than there are quality candidates to fill them. That’s why contractors are starting to think outside the traditional construction boxes.

Here are six things leading-edge contractors are doing to ensure they have the right people in place to do the work.

Embracing Modern Technologies
When it comes to their day-to-day tasks, legacy processes like manual workflows and data collection, poring over spreadsheets, or working from paper-based construction documents in the field are likely to turn off most Millennial and Gen Z professionals. Heck, even most older workers are done with these cumbersome processes.
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Today’s professionals want to be able to work like they do pretty much everything else – digitally, with more mobility, with cloud-based workflows and streaming, real-time data. Why spend hours to get the same answer manually that you could in just seconds with a click or swipe of modern, connected technologies? That’s just one of the reasons contractors are moving to connected, cloud-based construction solutions. And in doing so, they’re creating the tech workflows and career paths younger generations want.

Digitizing and Streamlining Construction HR Processes
It’s not just the construction workflows that need some tech love, however. Contractors need to make it easy for today’s professionals even before they’re hired. Many job seekers today will pass on potential job opportunities if the process of applying is too cumbersome.

Thankfully, there are modern, connected construction HR solutions as well that are digitizing and streamlining the recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and training processes. Not only does this help contractors get their new hires processed more efficiently and project teams assembled quicker, but these tools also expand contractors’ current hiring capabilities. With built-in job boards and digital recruiting tools that get their open requisitions in front of more qualified eyes, construction companies can be a bigger fish in an even bigger construction labor pool.

The Social Media Strategy
Speaking of technology, more contractors are choosing to meet job seekers where they are: online social media platforms. Job seekers are using mobile social media applications like TikTok, Instagram, Reddit, and GitHub, and sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Upwork, and more. And the recruiting process today is much more than a simple job posting. 

To attract workers today, companies need to be engaging, show opportunities and rewards, and more. Some contractors have made catchy videos, like this one from The Up Companies, where the company actually tapped the talents of entertainer Chingy as a way to connect with younger generations.

Trade Schools and Other Education Resources
Another victim of the mid-2000s recession were a number of dedicated trade schools, community college and university-level construction courses, in-depth training programs, and union apprenticeships. As jobs dropped, so too did interest in these programs. When jobs recovered, finding the funding, educators, curriculum and spaces for these valuable construction career-building tools were a major challenge. For years, construction training and education programs languished. 

An effort to renew these – largely begun at the construction association or organization levels – has helped. Today, we’re also seeing much more direct involvement from contractors themselves, setting aside funds for local educational efforts or creating their own programs. These are great for professionals and companies alike, with direct job placement opportunities and other benefits.

In addition to apprenticeships and educational programs, many contractors today are building mentorship programs into their construction operations. These programs are important to both career development and retention of quality construction professionals. This removes some of the “churn-and-burn” mentality that many feel is how the construction industry deals with workers – especially field laborers – staffing from project to project.

Instead, these mentorships are aimed at training workers to grow their skills in a place where they can also advance. The best mentorship programs, however, are dual mentorships, where older, more seasoned construction professionals teach the ins and outs of construction, while younger, more tech-savvy trainees share modern technology skill sets and workflows.

One speed bump in attracting new talent to construction has been the perception that the industry is largely an “old boys club.” Traditionally, that sentiment has been true, though the dynamic of the construction workforce has been greatly changing in recent years. Women, which once made up a mere 6 percent of the workforce, are being hired in droves, filling a lot of the vacancies left behind in recent years. While there is still a long way to go, that 6 percent figure jumped to an all-time high of 14.1 percent in August 2022. 

More female- and person-of-color-owned construction companies are establishing themselves and winning more work. And thousands of contractors are making diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs a priority. These programs are essential not just to provide safe, harassment-free working environments, but also to actively promote career growth and leadership opportunities for all members of the construction workforce.

A Winning Construction Workforce Plan
The construction labor shortage is beatable. With the right tools at their disposal and the right mindset toward attracting and retaining today’s talent, contractors can build quality workforces – not just for tomorrow’s projects, but for years to come.

The key, however, is change. Contractors that move away from legacy processes and thinking will be those best poised to attract the best workers and new leaders. It takes a commitment, but the end results will be rewarding.

This article originally appeared in the Trimble Viewpoint blog, authored by Andy Holtmann, Senior Content Manager of Trimble Construction Management Solutions.

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