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Covid-19 and Labor Shortages In Construction

Covid-19 and Labor Shortages in ConstructionCovid-19 and Labor Shortages in Construction
min read
August 21, 2023

‍Over the next few months, we will likely see a pattern of states expanding and contracting their reopening plans due to Covid-19. As the development of a vaccine continues, each state is figuring out how they can keep the virus under control while also returning to some level of normality. 

Despite widespread unemployment, many small businesses as well as the service industry, are having a hard time filling jobs as they try to reopen. One of the most affected sectors is construction. The Associated General Contractors of America found that more than half of all general contractors in the U.S. are having a hard time filling much-needed craft positions.

The construction industry has long suffered from a shortage of skilled labor. While Covid-19 may have exacerbated the problem in some ways, it has also highlighted some solutions for the industry as a whole.

Why Do Construction Workers Not Want to Return to the Job Site Right Now?

Understandably craft workers with families have legitimate safety concerns. Many are reluctant to return to work when building sites have been the source of many small breakouts of Covid-19. But there are ways that you can reassure your workers, by introducing strict measures to make your site biosecure: 

Before Covid-19 Labor Shortages Were a Problem in Construction

Even before Covid-19, labor shortages were nothing new. Construction has been struggling with a shortage of skilled workers and a dwindling labor force since the recession caused by the global financial crash of 2007-2008. Even when the economy (and construction industry) eventually recovered there weren’t workers available to take the jobs. A large number of that workforce were baby boomers who had since retired, and many other workers had already moved on to different industries.

How Has Construction Traditionally Dealt with its Labor Shortage? 

The only solution for industry leaders has been to look at different labor markets for new workers while also streamlining the resources that they already have. Traditionally this has been done by:

Embracing New Technologies 

Using new technologies helps to attract the Gen Z and millennial workforce, who intrinsically understand tech and prefer to work for companies who deploy these tools well. Embracing new technology not only helps you attract bright new candidates, it also streamlines work processes and improves communication between the back office and your labor force. A well-run site is a huge pull when attracting and retaining key staff. If you are already using innovative construction techniques and software, ask yourself, how will your candidates know that?  Are you using the right platforms to advertise your tech-literate jobs? Where are those Gen Z’s looking for their new opportunities and do your job advertisements speak their language? 

If you are thinking of modernizing some of your back office processes, check out Hourly. It streamlines small repetitive tasks such as data entry and it even gets rid of the need for paper timesheets. It’s great for your Gen Z workforce who would rather swipe than scribble.

Outreach to New Labor Markets

More Americans are getting a college education than ever before. A college education has traditionally been seen as the best route to a lucrative career. As college enrollment has been on the rise, traditional apprenticeship programs in construction have dwindled. However, there has been a concerted effort by The Association of General Contractors of America (AGC) and construction companies to re-introduce these apprenticeships. They have then used outreach programs in high schools to help raise awareness on the benefits of working in the construction industry. If your company is not already running an apprenticeship program, perhaps this is now the time to start. 

How Has Covid-19 Affected Construction Recruitment?

Although less young people have been entering the construction sector, that might be about to change with Covid-19. The crisis has created a recruitment opportunity for construction. There is now a whole generation of skilled graduates who will be looking for work in the worst economic downturn of the century. They may have to drastically rethink their careers. It’s important that your company helps these graduates understand how working in construction can support them in achieving their career ambitions.

Can You Do Further Recruitment of Bilingual Supervisors?

The construction industry has the largest language gap between skilled workers and managers on-site, according to a 2019 report from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). And 53 percent of construction managers surveyed expect an increase in the demand for foreign language skills on the jobsite in the next five years. If you are able to employ bilingual supervisors, they can assist with outreach to communities to recruit new team members as well. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the use of bilingual supervisors also greatly reduces the number of mistakes and accidents that happen due to misunderstandings. This can help reduce costly lawsuits and workers’ comp claims.

What Candidates Are You Overlooking?

Consider the large pool of corporate middle managers who may have recently found themselves collecting their severance package. Those who have worked in supply chain or project management have easily transferable skills that can help run a construction site. You might also consider the female workforce, who are a growing part of the industry.

Is it Time to Try Something Entirely New?

In recent years a new way of running a construction site has been developed in Europe called Lean Construction. A leading British expert, Dr. Peter Court, advises American companies on best practices for Lean Construction. Put simply he explains:

“Lean construction transforms a traditional construction site into a modern process of assembly. Much of the build can take place off site in a more tightly controlled and cost-effective environment.”

The more controlled and efficient build negates costly on-site variables. Issues with materials, delays or even having enough skilled labor to finish a task are minimized or avoided completely. Curious about other construction trends emerging abroad? Check out UK Construction Blog.

Adaptation is Key

The construction businesses that survive this crisis will be the ones that have found new, adaptive, and safer ways of working through the pandemic. 

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