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Construction has a certain non-glamorous stigma that can hinder high school students and job seekers from embracing a future in the industry. Kids are generally taught that to be successful in this day and age, they must earn a four-year degree and work in an office. While a college education can certainly lead to a successful life, this expected career path discourages students from learning a trade.

The construction industry isn’t experiencing labor shortages due to a lack of project demand or work, but rather a thinned-out workforce that hasn’t fully recovered from the economic downturn less than 10 years ago. Experienced construction managers are retiring in droves, and students aren’t lining up to learn how to become an estimator, foreman or project manager. Positions that require experienced people are not being filled as fast as the departures.

The shrinking workforce and lack of new talent are negatively impacting construction companies in more than one way. Labor shortages impact timelines, causing a decrease in efficiency and profitability. With fewer people available to take on new projects, deadlines that could easily have been met years ago need to be reassessed and possibly pushed out. This drop in efficiency can lead to more costly consequences, too, such as a drop in revenue. Some construction companies may be wary of taking on larger, complicated projects due to the inexperience of their workforce. But beyond the laborers and day-to-day workers, companies are faced with a management problem. Finding talented construction workers is one thing; finding a qualified individual to manage construction projects is considerably more difficult.

Recruiting is always an option, but it’s imperative that the qualifications for the job are made clear from the start. A great construction manager can troubleshoot issues onsite, assist in cost estimations and change orders, negotiate materials discounts and find qualified subcontractors for each job, among other tasks. The longer the list of desired qualifications, the longer it takes to recruit the right person for the job. This method can become costly and time-consuming—something no owner wants to hear. Even after all the effort put in to find the right person with the right credentials, it’s possible the individual won’t mesh very well with the company’s culture.

To combat this issue, some companies are looking inward for their next leaders. Most construction companies already have a pool of talented employees who can be trained on the ins and outs of what it means to be a construction manager. Effective training and mentoring programs need to be in place to properly retain standout employees and help them rise within the company, and that’s where some companies encounter difficulties. Most businesses are good at doing construction projects, but need guidance when creating and executing training and mentoring programs.

According to Aura Interactive, 62 percent of managers don’t believe they are doing a good job meeting the needs of learners. Given the complexities and responsibilities of a construction manager position, and the time it takes to develop certain skills, a well-defined and intricate training program must be in place to ensure employees are learning everything they need to know. In doing so, companies need to avoid siloing themselves.

Every company goes about projects in its own unique way. When trained according to the practices and styles of one company, employees can grow internally, but aren’t given the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge from outside sources and experiences. Techniques and procedures that another company has used may be a more acceptable practice or a better fit for a certain individual’s way of thinking. It makes sense to have employees perfect the methods put in motion by one company, but absorbing expertise from elsewhere in the industry also can be valuable.

Some firms conduct seminars to evaluate employees to determine if they’re ready to take the next step, whether it is to become a construction foreman, project manager or superintendent. Incorporating estimators and engineers with extensive construction experience in various areas can augment these training sessions by providing insights into the industry that can’t be found in many internally developed programs. From how to manage labor to assessing overhead costs, training programs give employees a holistic view of the projects, the company and the challenges facing the industry at large.

Although labor shortages are a major concern for construction firms, plenty of opportunities exist for the growth and development of employees. With the right training partnership, workers are better prepared for the demands of a construction manager position, allowing the company to grow in turn.   

Michael A. Smith is a partner and team leader in the construction division at The Bonadio Group. For more information, email msmith@bonadio.com.


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