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The skilled labor shortage shows no sign of slowing down and it threatens to hit contractors where it matters most: their bottom lines. 

As construction companies grow increasingly worried about having enough workers to meet demand, fewer firms are bidding on projects. A June 2017 survey by USG Corporation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that more than 30 percent of contractors are turning down jobs because they cannot find enough workers, and 65 percent are struggling to finish projects on time. 

Today’s labor landscape is a confluence of factors that have been lurking beneath the construction industry for years, including stagnant productivity, slow adoption of technology and the lack of younger workers—especially millennials—entering the trades. 

To meet demand, leading contractors are changing the way they attract and retain workers, and firms across the industry are turning to technology to maximize their existing resources and inspire the next generation of builders.

Leverage Technology

Faced with growing demand and fewer resources, firms are tackling the labor problem from another angle—changing the narrative from “We should embrace technology” to “What is the best solution available today to maximize resources?” To survive, these organizations are embracing cutting-edge technologies that are helping them save time, streamline operations and eliminate inefficiencies. 

The growing use of smart devices, drones and other internet of things (IoT)-enabled solutions on the jobsite, such as sensors, wearable devices and cloud-based applications, has changed the way stakeholders approach projects, communicate changes, and manage daily site operations and safety. For example, digital blueprints allow disparate teams to feel confident that they are building from the latest versions, eliminating waste and the potential for rework. 

Similarly, with networked sensor technologies, project leaders can monitor air quality, worker safety, and equipment location and utilization, among other environmental factors, in real time—helping to stay on top of workflows and ahead of potential dangers. Additionally, by using integrated solutions, contractors can leverage previously unavailable jobsite data—from workers, equipment, tools and materials—across platforms and geographies to make organizations more efficient and cost effective.  

Invest in the Labor Pipeline

While innovation involves the identification, testing and implementation of emerging tools and systems, it is also a mindset. It can be as simple as walking around a jobsite—or looking around an organization—and asking, “Why are we doing things the way we are?” This has, for example, prompted the industry to embrace diversity and prioritize outreach to traditionally underrepresented populations.

Similarly, to help widen the labor pool, contractors need to attract and recruit younger workers, who until now have expressed little interest in pursuing a career in construction. A June National Association of Home Builders survey found that only 3 percent of adults between 18 and 25 who knew what they wanted to do would choose construction. Of those undecided, 63 percent would not consider construction no matter how much they were paid. 

Part of this reluctance stems from the push toward four-year college degrees, while high school shop classes and technical programs have struggled to maintain funding and appeal. But another big factor is the industry’s old-fashioned, low-tech perception. 

Firms that embrace technology are increasing their chances of recruiting and retaining millennials, who have come to expect automation and innovation as part of their job. Forward-thinking construction companies are positioning themselves for long-term success by establishing positions and departments whose sole responsibility is researching, piloting and adopting the latest tools and solutions. In addition to benefiting from the latest innovations, it enables contractors to attract well-rounded, forward-thinking individuals who want to apply creative thinking and cutting-edge technology to demonstrated problems.

Additionally, according to Gallup research, millennials value on-the-job training, professional development and growth as a top work priority. By partnering with local schools to offer internships or working with organizations on other career-oriented initiatives, contractors can find and groom the next wave of workers. For example, reverse mentoring programs between a high schooler and a more seasoned construction employee can help bring less tech-savvy workers up to speed on emerging technologies such as mobile field applications or virtual/augmented reality headsets, while getting young people excited about construction.

This watershed moment in construction—increased demand and a lack of available labor—is a unique opportunity for the industry to prioritize innovation, reach out to and engage underrepresented populations, and leverage the latest tools and technologies. Faced with labor challenges, forward-thinking contractors are embracing diversity and digitization to raise construction’s profile, attract a new generation of workers and lay the foundation for a more profitable, resilient future. 

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