Understanding the Challenges of Recruiting New Workers to the Construction Industry

A recent study found most contractors believe the industry is widely misunderstood by those outside of it, which hampers efforts to draw people into careers in construction.
By Donna Laquidara-Carr
June 7, 2019

The challenge of finding skilled workers continues to be one of the biggest concerns among contractors. One of the most direct means to address this issue is attracting more people to work in construction, but the industry has struggled to do so. A recent study conducted by Dodge Data & Analytics for the quarterly USG Corporation + U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index reveals contractors’ perspectives on the challenges of recruiting new workers and shows that they believe the industry is widely misunderstood by those outside of it, which hampers the efforts to draw people into careers in construction.

The survey included general contractors, construction managers, design-builders and specialty trade contractors, with about an even split in responses between the specialty trades and the other contractors.

Overcoming Misconceptions

The findings reveal that a major challenge to recruitment is a series of general misperceptions about what a career in construction offers. When asked about the top three reasons why construction is a good career choice, most contractors (70%) select the earning potential in this field. Many contractors also note the potential to build a career in this industry, with 43% selecting the opportunities for career advancement. A high percentage also see value in the work itself, with 37% choosing the ability to gain skills on the job and 27% reporting the diversity of work experiences among the top three reasons for working in construction. In addition, one quarter (25%) regard the satisfaction of creating a tangible asset like a building to be part of the reason that working in construction is a great career, an aspect relatively unique to this profession.

The contractors’ responses about the greatest myths held by the general public about working in construction highlight that these benefits are not sufficiently well known outside of the industry. Almost two thirds (61%) of contractors believe that one of the top three myths about construction is that it is a dirty job, a sharp contrast with the satisfaction with the work itself expressed by the contractors. Around half believe that people think construction work requires brute strength, not training (55%), which is in direct contrast to the contractors’ regard for the diversity of their work experiences. A similar percentage (42%) think that people believe construction is just a job and not a career, despite how many contractors have experienced opportunities for advancement in this profession. Finally, 40% of contractors think that people believe that you can’t support a family on the pay from a construction job, which is clearly the opposite of what the contractors themselves have experienced.

Outreach and Recruitment

Clearly, overcoming these misperceptions about the industry is crucial to recruiting more people to consider it as a career choice. However, there are also challenges created by lack of consistent recruitment strategies in the industry. When contractors were asked to select all the means by which they recruit people, none of the options, not even placing traditional advertisements for workers, were selected by more than half of the respondents. Such a scattershot approach to recruiting across the industry makes it more difficult to draw new people in. This may be an area that industry associations and education programs (such as construction management programs) need to address explicitly to make it easier for contractors to connect with their potential workforce.

Data also shows that contractors are, for the most part, not prioritizing their outreach to under-represented populations in the industry. For example, only 20% of contractors surveyed state that their companies have programs to recruit women to the workforce. When asked about their future recruitment plans in two years, virtually the same percentage (21%) state that they expect to have a program like that in the future. This suggests that contractors are not seeking the widest audience possible for expanding the pool of skilled workers, an approach they may not be able to continue as the challenge to find skilled workers continues to impact their businesses.

The contractors themselves believe the best way to recruit new workers in general is to create a better reputation for high pay for the industry, to develop more apprenticeship programs and to make the pathway to advancement in this industry more evident. In particular, they think high pay, good benefits and that path to advancement are crucial to draw in more workers younger than 30, and nearly one third (32%) also think it is important to offer younger workers the opportunity to work with advanced technology as a recruitment strategy.

All of these will be helpful, but until contractors can develop more successful, consistent recruitment strategies, find ways to tap people who are currently under-represented in the industry and effectively counter the misperceptions of the industry in the larger culture, the struggle to draw workers into the industry as a career will continue.

by Donna Laquidara-Carr

Donna Laquidara-Carr, Ph.D. currently provides editorial direction, analysis and content to DD&A’s SmartMarket Reports. Prior to this position, she worked for nearly 20 years with DD&A’s Dodge division, where she gained detailed insight into the construction industry. For more information and access to DD&A's SmartMarket Reports visit

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