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Time to solve our skilled labor shortage

Time to solve our skilled labor shortage

by DOUG CHAMBERS, Co-founder, FieldLens | March 18, 2015 

It’s time to start talking about a solution for the construction industry’s skilled labor shortage. 

Builder recently pointed to a labor market analysis estimating that the construction industry will be in need of 6.7 million skilled laborers by 2016 -- 50% more than what’s currently available. On the complete opposite end of the economic newstream are the millennials, making up a whopping 40% of unemployed workers. Seems like the construction industry and millennials should be running toward each other with arms wide open. So why isn’t this happening?

The numbers are pretty dismal and in order for the trades to survive, they need to welcome in a younger workforce. Unfortunately, most young people want nothing to do with construction. It’s not laziness keeping them away from the industry -- it’s a misinformed understanding of what a career in construction could look like.

not your grandfather's industry

Fact is owners are demanding increasingly complex work done in a shorter amount of time, and construction companies need to answer that call. The labor shortage isn’t going to fix itself, and attracting millennials to careers in construction has got to be done on their terms. Young workers today expect a strong workplace community, a certain level of personal independence, advancement potential, and state-of-the-art technology. In the end, all these things will help to improve this industry, but the place to start winning and keeping new employees is by leveraging technology.

The labor shortage isn’t going to fix itself, and attracting millennials to careers in construction has got to be done on their terms.
— Doug Chambers, FieldLens

The one thing you can pretty much count on from anyone born after 1985 is that they are highly dependent on technology. Whereas there are plenty of construction industry vets who can imagine living in a world without a smartphone, millennials cannot. For a millennial, technology is their form of entertainment, manager of their social lives, and their source of all information. A career working in one of the trades couldn’t be more foreign to the way your average millennial lives his or her daily life.

Or so they think...

Technology is the point of intersection between a younger job pool and the construction industry. As construction-specific technology advances (think mobile communication tools, drones, jobsite robots, smart clothing, smart materials, and so on), workers become more empowered in the field. Their work is less the manual labor drudgery some might envision, and more of a futuristic, tech-enhanced job with potential to attract a lot of people to a field of work. And the fact that you get to build stuff -- well, that’s pretty amazing in and of itself.

Trade schools are ground zero in the fight to build the skilled labor pool. Training in advanced technologies should be a larger part of the curriculum to help match industry’s pace in increasing advanced tech tools. Beyond that, trade schools should be advertising the heck out of the possibilities available to their students. And they need to do it soon. A Manpower Group study points out that the average age of skilled laborers in construction is older than average working age in the industry as a whole. So while we need to leverage technology to entice a younger workforce, developing truly skilled workers requires the expertise of existing skilled laborers to provide the on-the-job training that is so crucial in construction.

Skilled labor isn’t for everyone, but by pushing the attractive elements of what skilled labor means to construction --namely technology-- we can expect the job pool to increase.

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