It has always been a struggle to find skilled workers in construction because the industry is notoriously strapped for good talent. Especially today — faced with project delays brought on by COVID-19 — many construction companies find it difficult to retain or hire staff and subcontractors.
As the certainty of so many projects hangs in the balance, workers understandably move to more certain, “essential” projects that guarantee steady pay.
Around 40 percent of U.S. construction firms have laid off employees because of project cancellations and shortages of equipment or materials caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Engineering News-Record.
Meanwhile, project delivery is still under extreme pressure to meet contracted deadlines.
Whether your small-to-mid-sized construction company is struggling to fill vacancies left by departing subcontractors, or staff an essential project, many are feeling the labor crunch more keenly than ever before. But, equipped with the right technology, small construction companies can make huge improvements in recruiting and retention.
Why is finding good talent so hard?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are nearly 279,000 construction job vacancies as of February 2020 — ranking as one of the business categories most in need of labor within the private sector. Especially with unemployment reaching unprecedented levels these days, why are people choosing to forgo jobs in construction?
Outside of the COVID-19 factors, small construction companies are faced with several operational, organizational, and cultural challenges that make recruiting difficult:
Industry optics: The construction industry suffers from an institutional branding issue. Historically attracting a particular worker demographic, the construction industry is around 88 percent white and around 90 percent male, according to the BLS. Although outreach and representation has become a priority for many in the last decade, construction has actually seen a steep decline in female employment in the last ten years, and is well below the diversity employment average across all industries.
Generational misconceptions: In tandem with the above point, the construction industry is struggling to shake some deep-seated generational stereotypes. Young people just aren’t attracted to the vocation these days. Attributable to false biases, lack of outreach, or cultural stigma, just 7 percent of construction workers were 25 years old or younger in 2019.
Subcontractor allegiances: Subcontractors might be hesitant to partner with a small company in fear of compromising their relationship with larger companies. Overshadowed by the pay and reputation of a larger company, smaller construction companies may struggle to attract and retain skilled workers and trade partners who view larger competition as a safer bet.
Small construction companies have both the most to lose from labor shortages and the most to gain from strategic recruiting.
Overcome labor shortages in the short and long term
In the short term
In this scenario, your company is working on an “essential” project that hasn’t been delayed. You’re operating despite new social distancing set-backs, but you still struggle to staff your project. You’re likely a small-to-mid-sized company lacking the clout or bankroll of one of the big players.
Contrary to the raw numbers, there are talented partners and workers out there waiting to work for your company if you know how to attract them. Maximize your position by playing to your strengths — strengths that are unique to small construction companies — and carve out a good slice of the market for yourself.
For example, streamlined payment policies can be a strength of small construction companies. Unencumbered by the scale and policies of larger companies, your small business can offer fast, efficient pay when backed by appropriate progress tracking. Real-time progress tracking technology can facilitate efficient subcontractor payment by sharing information from the field to the office, and then directly into your accounting system. Use real-time updates from the field to verify progress billing, confirm work completion on the spot, and pay subcontractors sooner.
In the long term
In this scenario, the world has overcome COVID-19, and yet your company continues to struggle with recruiting. The pandemic put you back months in terms of acquiring talent, and the usual labor crunch factors are felt now more than ever.
It might seem overly simple, but a great defense against labor shortages is attracting bright, new talent. Anytime you can get in front of potential employees is an opportunity to market your business as a smart career move.
Many younger workers will be more attracted to jobs that appeal to their own personal interests and values. So highlight your technology assets, reinforce your emphasis on teamwork and demonstrate your policies on inclusion and diversity. This not only helps increase the visibility of your business, but also raises awareness about the merit of your viability to young employees.
If your firm is reliant on traditional workflows, it’s time to rethink the importance of training and guidance on and off the job. Despite the abundance of available workers who may be free to work, it will remain difficult to match employees with aptitude to the work that needs doing.
Take the time to upskill and reskill employees when they have free time. This will allow them to be flexible to take on new tasks when they arise. More sophisticated field tech can provide needed guidance to workers who are learning new tasks. Simplified workflows in field layout, visualization, estimating and project management can enable new workers to begin contributing to your business goals faster than ever before.
Learn more about solving the unique challenges that small to midsize construction companies face in this ebook.