No matter your trade, we have all felt the sting of the current labor shortage. Finding skilled labor is harder than ever, which leads to the question: what can we do about it? As a construction consultant for the past 19-plus years I have seen a few things that worked and a few things that did not.
Schools are are pushing students into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs and many districts have closed funding for vocational training. This has brought us to where we are now, in a severe shortage of skilled career-minded construction professionals—especially those working in the field.
What I have seen work the best is investing in your field employees. This doesn’t mean just paying higher wages (but that does help). What I mean is start a training/mentorship program of your own and invest time into teaching them more advanced skills. An employee that feels they are growing and can see a path toward a rewarding future is more likely to stick around. I have even seen training contracts be put into place where you provide the training for a mutually signed agreement and they will stay with the company for at least 12 months after training (check local labor laws.) What makes these methods effective is once one or two employees participate, other employees start to see the difference it makes and it inspires them to join the program. Done properly, you can end up with a very tight knit long-term crew.
Another is to reward your employees after a tough day. One common thread in construction workers is we all enjoy a challenge; to at least some degree, we are type A personalities. So after a rough one, find a way to make them proud of what was accomplished, acknowledge it, show appreciation, and find some small way to reward them. Maybe it’s a gift card to a nicer restaurant they can take their better half to. When thinking this one through take the time to look back and make sure you are not taking advantage of their dedication and hard work; it’s easy to get caught up in challenges and just push harder.
If you use technology, teach your workers to learn the technology. Many entry level construction workers are not tech savvy but want to learn. Don’t think they can’t just because they are ‘older.’ If they can post videos to Facebook and use Instagram, understanding basic features in construction management programs will be easier than you expect. Consider making it part of a compensation package, as they learn, rewards go up.
As the labor shortage continues to increase, schools are taking another look at reintroducing vocational training. So how can you help? Find a VoTech class and ask to speak to the students. Let them know that construction work is a very rewarding long-term career choice. By doing this, you are being a good steward of the industry and you will help fill the shortage gaps. This isn’t always an immediate return on your time investment, but it does help pave the way for the future … and it helps you identify future team members.
Maybe speaking isn’t your thing. Instead, contact your legislators and let them know about the challenges you face. It’s a win-win for you and our elected officials. There is a lot we can do, but it’s going to take all of us working together to push for long-term solutions.
Rob Bruce is cofounder of Contractor Foreman, an all-in-one project-management system that allows contractors to easily build estimates, track time, generate daily reports, and manage projects.