The construction industry is on the precipice of imploding on itself, quite candidly—and something needs to change. Every company across the country is feeling the squeeze of the labor shortage. We keep talking about how we need to entice younger workers to the business and how we need to leverage technology to fill in the gaps—and that is certainly all true. But there is a key component that is missing that needs to happen if the industry is truly going to evolve: a cultural revolution in leadership.

We all know this. It is something we have talked about here in the office a number of times, but last week the point was really driven home when the editorial team at Constructech attended the Construction Safety Conference at Drury Lane in Oak Brook, Ill.

Keynote speaker Mark Breslin, CEO, Breslin Strategies, made the link between safety, culture, and leadership. A vital point he made is that the industry went from safety, as a culture, being zero, as in not important at all, to being a No. 1 priority on jobsites. Today, safety is a driving metric that companies are taking all the way to the field. That culture shift was successful. But now we need it to happen again.

Now, he argues, we need a leadership shift, saying, “The idea that we can evolve this industry hinges on a leadership revolution.”

Here’s why it is important. Baby boomers are retiring. It started roughly two years ago and will continue for the next seven. We all know it is coming, and yet it is different to see the impact it will have in person. He asked the room how many people were baby boomers. Roughly 30% raised their hands. All of them will be gone—and their experience and their knowledge will go along with them.

We need to do something today. The challenge is so obvious, as Breslin puts it: Millennials won’t buy the boomers mentality. In construction—an industry that is typically a “tough” culture that doesn’t traditionally embrace mentoring—this is a problem. He shared a story of a young kid going to a project supervisor, with an idea to move scaffolding to improve a project. Breslin asked the audience what they thought the supervisor’s response was.

“You don’t get paid to think,” was the resounding response from the audience.

Let that sink in. The message this is sending is that workers are not valued, their opinions and ideas don’t matter, and that the company simply isn’t interested in innovation or change.

In a world where the pace of change is only going to speed up, this is a huge problem the industry can’t afford to ignore. What is needed is a mindset shift, an investment in training leaders, and people development.

How can we fix it? Quite simply it comes down to this: The best leaders in our industry build people who build projects. Read that again. Good leaders build people first. We need to focus our energy on people development—and it starts with our leadership.

Technology will certainly play a role in helping solve the labor crisis, but it is only one component. There is a culture shift that needs to happen too. The construction industry successfully made the transition with safety. Now, it needs to redefine how its leads, with a focus on mentorship and people.

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