Call to Action: Overcoming the Construction Workforce Shortage

October 29, 2019 Allison Scott

Despite continued industry growth, the construction workforce shortage remains one of the most significant threats to the success of the industry. According to a survey conducted by Autodesk and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), few firms appear to be immune. 

With the global population set to hit 10 billion by 2050 - and 80 percent of firms reporting a hard time filling hourly craft positions - how will we build the necessary 13,000 buildings per day to accommodate that future growth?

The shortage of labor is already impacting construction firms’ bottom line, but firms are making investments in solutions that matter. From creating smarter ways to work in order to gain efficiencies to developing people and talent - the industry is evolving to cope and meet the demands of the future.




Cause and Effects of a Construction Workforce Shortage

The primary cause of the construction workforce shortage is the shrinking pipeline of new and qualified talent. 

In the short term, effects are showing up in construction compensation, training, and operations. To incentivize workers, the majority of firms are taking some combination of actions to boost pay, add new benefits, and invest in new or expanded construction training programs.

Longer-term consequences of the construction workforce gap is likely to be more significant. Firms will have to look for ways to augment the workforce with solutions that streamline workflows. Technology that reduces non-optimal tasks, improves data sharing and speeds up decision making will play an ever-greater role. This will also alter the nature of how work is achieved, freeing up workers to focus on execution rather than administering workflows.

If left unaddressed, construction workforce shortages could undermine the growth of the construction industry and the broader economy. Firms can only stretch schedules and alter costs so much, and if the issue dampens demand, that could undermine broader economic growth by sidelining investments and postponing infrastructure.

Though the task can appear daunting, some in the industry are getting creative. The following solutions combine construction training and technology and have the potential to mend the construction workforce shortage.


Construction Training for Future AEC Pros

Traditional math and science programs have proven unable to cultivate a large enough labor pool of inspired minds. In response, there is one creative solution getting the attention of both educators and construction industry professionals. 

A new venture, U.K. education consultancy Class Of Your Own (COYO), is tackling the future labor pipeline head-on with its ‘Design Engineer Construct!’ (DEC) learning program. The program is creating an effective learning environment for students across the UK. COYO exposes students to a STEAM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) curriculum to encourage and recognize digital careers in AEC. 

The program is gaining traction and partnership between the industry and the education system, making real progress to inspire future workers and provide them with work-ready skills.


Construction Training for Today’s Pros

Many construction firms are rapidly adopting new technology for efficiency. This requires construction training to help seasoned professionals adopt new processes. “Reverse mentoring” is one solution, partnering up and coming tech-savvy workers with seasoned professionals in a knowledge exchange.

BAM Construction in the UK saw great success with reverse mentoring on an ambitious £21 million project rebuilding the English Martyrs School (EMS). It was BAM’s first project to launch fully digitized workflows. The project team was predominantly seasoned workers used to paper-based workflows. 

Aligning with BAM’s strategy for “building the present, creating the future,” the team learned how to integrate digital BIM project coordination and field management tools through a Reverse Mentoring initiative. The successful implementation saved significant time and improved quality while successfully upskilling the current team.

Similarly, at US-based Suffolk Construction, on a few key job sites recently graduated engineers partnered with experienced workers to expand the use of 3D BIM models. As the effort  improved the accuracy and speed of communication at the jobsite, it quickly took hold within the firm’s culture. Young workers are also benefiting, learning from experienced, seasoned professional’s guidance. With a vision to “transform the construction experience by building smart”, Suffolk now employs reverse mentoring across all its projects.


Construction Technology for Efficiency

Construction technology is enabling new ways of working, such that the construction workforce of the future may look very different than it has in the past. 

One-fourth of firms report responding to the labor gap by using cutting-edge solutions like Drones, robots and 3-D printers. Meanwhile, 23 percent of firms report they are adopting methods to improve jobsite performance. Methods like lean construction techniques, virtual construction tools like BIM, and even off-site prefabrication.

These techniques are generating positive returns like time savings, better communication, and improved quality. The trend is leading to realizations of potentials around workforce optimization through reduced rework and non-optimal tasks and improved information sharing. 

The efficiency gains will help reduce pressure on the construction workforce shortage, that said people have to remain part of the solution. 


Creating a More Diverse Workforce

It’s true, software can’t get us there alone. Construction is still a people-driven business, and most firms are feeling the pressure of there being fewer available. In fact, 40 percent or more of firms report incurring one or more of these direct pain points of a people shortage: 

  • Sacrificing project deadlines
  • Increasing prices and bids
  • Higher-than-anticipated costs 

In addition to inspiring future minds, the only other solution is diversifying the construction workforce. The industry needs large, untapped pools of talent: recent veterans; young people seeking alternatives to a traditional college education; and, the largest untapped talent pool by far - women.

Only 10% of the total industry workforce and a minuscule 1.2% of the trade force, women are slowly growing in number in the construction industry. 

Hard Hatted Woman”, a feature-length film about women in construction trades, tells the story of five construction workers who happen to be women. The documentary acknowledges the unique struggles women face and honors the important work they do. It also strives to encourage a dialogue to help usher more women into the workforce.

Improved training, encouraging maternity leave, ensuring respect, and ensuring safety equipment fits the unique physique of women - these are all big strides the industry has to make.

Visionary programs like Build Like a Girl and Smart Girls Rock!, created and sponsored by Miron Construction, are working to inspire a culture shift, and inspire girls and young women.


Will Innovation in Construction Training and Technology Be Enough?

These promising innovations in construction technology, process, people, and culture are pushing real solutions. Yet no one solution alone is enough. Likewise, current adoption of these shifts is not yet enough, as data year over year reflects a continual decline in available construction labor. 

So, the question still remains...with the global population set to hit 10 billion by 2050 and 80 percent of firms reporting a hard time filling hourly craft positions today - will we be able to build the 13,000 buildings per day needed to accommodate our future growth?

Previous Article
How KBE-NY Achieved Successful Project Outcomes by Deploying Construction Technology
How KBE-NY Achieved Successful Project Outcomes by Deploying Construction Technology

KBE Companies employ more than 200 industry professionals and has an annual revenue of more than $750 Milli...

Next Article
AEC Excellence Awards 2019 - Innovator of the Year
AEC Excellence Awards 2019 - Innovator of the Year

Amr Raafat’s innovative approach to modular construction has quite literally transformed the offsite design...