As the economy recovers, demand for construction carpenters and all skilled craftworkers will increase, and recruiting, training and retention issues the industry has faced throughout the decade will resurface. ACT
, a not-for-profit workforce assessment, research and program management company, reports three major challenges affect today’s construction industry.
- Technology and materials innovations drive changes and the need for training. Wireless telemetrics for increased efficiency and innovative, environmentally friendly materials are just two examples of rapidly advancing technology. New technology and materials are often accompanied by specific use and safety directions that craftworkers must understand and follow.
- Demographics affect recruiting and on-boarding. The average craft professional in the construction industry is 47 years old. Current estimates show that 20 percent of the construction workforce will retire in the next three years. To find enough skilled workers to replace those lost to retirement, the industry must continue to reach out to immigrants and minorities.
- The Hispanic segment of the construction workforce is increasing, and much of this segment has limited English-speaking abilities. Limited English proficiency will continue to be a serious barrier for communicating with fellow workers and with supervisors who speak only English. The language barrier also directly impacts job safety. A 2008 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that language barriers are a key contributor to construction work-related deaths, which are disproportionately high for Hispanic workers.
A better understanding of the critical tasks and foundational skill needs of a carpenter may assist in confronting these issues. The Most Critical Tasks for America’s Carpenters
ACT retains a database of task and foundational skill analyses for approximately 17,000 jobs in private and public organizations across the country, including construction firms.
To further understand the future direction of carpentry, ACT analyzed the 325 most critical job tasks—as identified and ranked by incumbent carpenters—of 25 carpenter jobs at various companies. Fifteen major task categories emerged from this analysis.
Sixty percent of a carpenter’s tasks fall into five categories:
- constructing buildings and structures;
- using machines, equipment and tools;
- maintaining machines, equipment and tools;
- using blueprints, drawings and diagrams to guide the work; and
- taking measurements to accomplish the work.
Another 10 areas make up the remaining 40 percent of the job. These deal with:
- safety practices;
- following quality procedures and inspecting work;
- problem solving/troubleshooting;
- handling logistics of supplies and materials;
- working with a team;
- demonstrating leadership qualities;
- keeping documentation and records;
- maintaining professionalism and ethical performance;
- participating in training; and
- on-the-job housekeeping.
ACT also analyzed the 25 carpenter jobs to determine the foundational skill levels required to accomplish these job tasks. For carpenters, observation was deemed to be the most critical skill, with locating and using information second most critical, followed by applied mathematics, reading and teamwork. Essential Directions: Training and Safety
Much of the training done in the industry is informal and administered on the job. However, analysis of specific jobs shows an increasing need for formal training and certification programs given the industry’s changing technological and materials environment and the Department of Labor’s focus on construction industry safety.
ACT’s study also reveals that ensuring safety will help improve the industry’s image. Organizations such as Associated Builders and Contractors
work to enhance the perception of industry safety through information delivery, training programs and support of common-sense Occupational Safety and Health Administration reform legislation.
Training and documentation to support Spanish-speaking employees is an important safety element for this fast-growing worker segment. All craft skills and safety training, including carpenter-specific instruction, should be offered in both English and Spanish.
As such programs become more widely available, the challenge is getting the right people enrolled—and funding the training. Finding ways to encourage workers to take advantage of such courses is essential to the industry as it deals with a changing workforce in the coming years.
When facing the challenges of recruiting and retaining a skilled workforce, it is important to understand what workers actually do on the job and what foundational skills are needed for successful participation in job training and continual improvement in on-the-job performance.
Job training that focuses on critical job tasks and foundational skills can serve the industry for the long term, while providing workers with credentials that represent the ticket to a job or to career advancement.