Focus on Leadership Development for Younger Workers

A substantial investment in leadership development will help solve the skilled worker shortage.
By Brian Montelongo
May 10, 2022

The leadership of the commercial construction industry is reaching a moment of critical inflection as this business sector continues to grapple with a severe shortage of skilled workers. This is a problem that has only worsened since last year’s figures were released. As the commercial construction industry lurches through 2022, it’s dealing with supply chain disruption, material shortages and ever-increasing inflation rates—driving up costs and reducing profitability. But these issues can be mitigated with the right amount of planning, scheduling and estimating. However, the dramatic shortfall of skilled labor remains the most pressing issue—one that we have less capacity to “work around.”

According to Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) latest modeling on workforce estimates, the industry must find a way to recruit nearly 650,000 additional workers to meet the rising demand in 2022. Michael Bellaman, ABC’s president and CEO, recently addressed this pressing issue, as well as the obstacles the industry is now facing, stating, “[Our] workforce shortage analysis sends a message loud and clear: The construction industry desperately needs qualified, skilled craft professionals to build America. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in November and stimulus from COVID-19 relief will pump billions in new spending into our nation’s most critical infrastructure, and qualified craft professionals are essential to efficiently modernize roads, bridges, energy production and other projects across the country. More regulations and less worker freedom make it harder to fill these jobs.”

In addition to the increased wages and payroll operations, could a substantial investment in leadership development help solve the skilled worker shortage? According to a majority of industry experts, the answer is a resounding yes.

Diverse Recruiting

Denver-based Phoenix Masonry, a mid-size commercial masonry contractor, committed to investing time and energy in support of leadership development. For the past several years, it dedicated money and effort into supporting Transportation & Construction GIRL, one of the few examples of nonprofit trade groups exclusively focused on recruiting the next generation of women into the commercial construction industry. Through its programs, presentations and field trips, it has seen firsthand the type of first impression that can be made on young women who’ve never before considered this line of work. When they hear from someone who looks like them, thinks like them and shares their outlook, it opens their mind to a whole new world of possibilities. When it comes to a shortage of skilled workers in the commercial construction industry, it’s looking less and less like we can solve this problem with men alone. Just imagine where we might be in 10 years if we expanded recruitment programs and efforts such as these.

Apprenticeship and Leadership Development

When it comes to addressing the critical worker shortage, apprenticeship programs can become a strong pipeline of fresh talent. The industry won’t solve the current shortage overnight, but if more organizations placed a focus in this area, the effect will be cumulative. The Rocky Mountain Masonry Institute (RMMI) created the Fast Track Apprenticeship Program, where candidates can earn a wage as they train. It’s developing a new generation of capable masonry workers through hands-on instruction, online courses and training that occurs on the jobsite itself. If candidates stick with the program for 18 months, they’ll have a lifetime of earning potential in the commercial construction industry.

Programs like Fast Track can prime the recruitment pump, so to speak, but the effort to establish leadership development is more important in the long run. Last year, RMMI developed an initiative that targets some of the youngest professionals in its membership rolls. The “Future Leaders” program will use these candidates to recruit other workers of the same generation. Peers often take their cues from other peers—and leadership development is a character-building asset.

It’s going to take like-minded participation from a much larger portion of the construction industry to make measurable progress in the fight to offset the shortage of skilled labor. To get where we need to be—as fast as the experts say we need to get there—will require everyone to get involved in some way, shape or form. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment, and the individuals who make up the existing workforce are going to have to look for ways to get involved, contribute and do their part.

by Brian Montelongo
Brian Montelongo is the masonry sales manager for Colorado Best Block and the current president of the Rocky Mountain Masonry Institute (RMMI), a nonprofit trade industry group of over 100 manufacturers and contractors, dedicated to promoting and preserving Colorado’s proud masonry tradition through education and outreach. He can be reached at [email protected].

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