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According to the Home Builders Institute, the construction industry needs an additional 2.2 million workers between now and 2024 to keep up with construction expansion and worker replacement. News outlets have called the situation “staggering” and “desperate.” But nobody should be saying it’s a surprise—or temporary. In Wipfli’s 2021 construction transition planning report, nearly 90% of construction leaders said they plan to start transitioning out of their companies in the next decade. Owners have been retiring and exiting the business in waves, taking a wealth of knowledge and skills with them.

Retirement is just one reason construction workers are walking away. Construction is tough, physical work. Sometimes, even dangerous. Companies have struggled to find workers who enjoy and thrive in the environment. It’s also hard to retain workers when wages and opportunities are plentiful outside the sector. The labor shortage is a ubiquitous problem, so construction firms are competing against “cushier” and “easier” career offers.
These three factors—ownership transitions, recruitment and retention—add up to a serious and perpetual problem for the industry, and one that time and market conditions won’t fix. Here’s the hard truth: There will never be enough people to get the work done.
That’s not a cue to throw in the towel. Instead, to battle the construction labor shortage, it’s time to develop new strategies for talent acquisition and retention.

Assess before you engage

According to the Society of Human Resource Management, on average, it takes $4,129 and 42 days to fill an open position. Even then, there’s no guarantee that a company has hired the right person or that they’ll stay.

Pre-hiring assessments can help a firm shorten ramp-up time and shore up investments. Behavioral assessments can “decode” candidates’ motivations and help place them on the right teams right away. Assessment-based hiring guides interviewers toward the right questions and matches new hires with compatible managers and teams. A person’s motivation and drive—not just what they say during an interview—is an important indication of cultural fit. Assessments can also identify coaching tools and onboarding plans tailored to individual needs.

Onboard during the interview process  

It’s never too early to get on the same page. Use the interview process to introduce your mission, vision, and values and to start conversations about career paths and aspirations. Younger generations, in particular, are interested in meaningful work that aligns with their personal values. And workers who are looking for long-term career paths versus a job need to understand whether they have a future with the company from the very beginning.

Diversify the talent pool

It’s no secret: Construction is a male-dominated industry. Firms can expand their talent pools by recruiting more women and minorities into the field—and not just as token placements. In an equitable environment, more employees enter the industry, impact outcomes and participate at the greatest level.

Construction firms also need to recruit new skillsets. Part of “doing more with less” is working more efficiently and with technology. Increasingly, employees will need technical and analytics tools in addition to a skilled trade. Tomorrow’s leaders may not come from a jobsite.

Re-recruit employees

“More people” isn’t a magic solution. Recruitment, onboarding and training are time-consuming and expensive. Firms can throw tons of money at recruitment and still lack the talent, skills and desire they need to deliver high-quality and consistent work.
The best HR investments are working right now. It’s a leader’s job to make sure people are in the right roles, given the right support and offered a longer-term career path. If leaders don’t already, it’s time to do the following.

  • Study the workforce: If leaders don’t pay attention to their best people, somebody else will. Get to know team members and what makes them tick. Find out why people stay, what’s challenging them and what has them hooked. Encourage supervisors to lead strong and spend meaningful time with staff.
  • Actively listen: If leaders solicit employee feedback, ask with the intent to act. Expect tough messages, stay open to them and commit to action. If people are leaving, have an objective third party find out why. It’s leadership’s responsibility to make the workplace better for the next person.
  • Invest in leaders: There’s a saying, “People don’t leave their companies; they leave their boss.” Supervisors have tremendous influence over job satisfaction and retention. Make sure managers, superintendents and project managers have the skills, tools and support to lead well. Keep in mind that being good at a trade doesn’t always translate into being a good leader. Supervisors may need ongoing and advanced soft-skills training. Leadership takes time, too. There’re no shortcuts for building relationships, communicating and training.

The talent gap is the new normal. The good news is construction firms can execute contracts, secure new business and increase company value with the people they already have. The key is to hire the right people, train them well and develop solid career paths for them to follow. When employees are engaged in the work, they can—and will—do more to move the company forward.


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