There are high hopes for 2017 as the best year yet for the construction industry since the recession hit. The month of January alone saw the creation of 36,000 new construction jobs; that’s a 2.6% increase in employment from the previous year, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Despite this growth, employers struggle to fill the vacancies with skilled and experienced laborers.

The Problem

A lack of skilled workers is one of the biggest challenges facing the construction industry. Almost 80% of businesses struggle to fill positions. If not addressed quickly and efficiently, there will be a noticeable effect on building prices and timelines. The Construction Industry Institute and other independent organizations have conducted research into the cause of the problem. Understanding where the skilled labor went is crucial to rebuilding a strong workforce for the future.

ESG reviews some of the key issues and addresses solutions employers must consider.

Where the Workers Went

Many trained workers were unable to find jobs during the recession. After being forced to start over in a new industry, it’s understandable that they just never returned. It’s also true that the incentives that used to drive people to pursue construction jobs don’t exist like they used to. In the past 30 years, the average salary of construction workers has fallen behind the national average.

How to Get them Back

If you want to attract skilled laborers who left the business, or gainfully employed candidates open to new opportunities, it’s essential to expand upon what has already proven successful within your company. Speak with your current staff, namely those you’ve employed long term. Work on improving any area that is a common cause of dissatisfaction. The chances are high that many of the concerns your current staff has are concerns former construction industry employees share. Does your company have an exemplary safety record? Do you provide industry standard rates and benefits? Do you have modern equipment and tools, particularly the latest technological innovations, to help streamline projects?

The Construction Industry Institute found that people commonly leave the industry because of lack of permanent employment, lower than expected pay, poor safety, poor treatment, and unpleasant working conditions. After the recession, many trained and experienced construction employees found work in other fields. To entice them back, you’ll need to address as many of these issues as possible.

Broadening your search criteria and even considering candidates with experience in other industries, such as agriculture and transportation, could be to your benefit as well. The cost of providing job training is often worth the investment, especially knowing that these potential candidates can handle the workload. Working with an industry-specific recruiter is an effective way to find candidates primed for these kinds of demanding positions.  Applicants who are eager to learn and possess a good work ethic are high priority in addition to those with qualifying skill sets.

However, it’s important not to neglect your long-term, loyal staff just to attract new hires. Provide opportunities for your experienced employees to cross-train and develop newer skill sets, and you’ll maintain a satisfied workforce.

Long Term Recruitment

The most challenging issue to solve long-term is the decrease in young workers seeking careers in the construction industry. Approximately 2.3 million jobs disappeared from 2006 through 2011. This lack of demand made it nearly impossible for young people to break into the business during this time. As a result, a large number of high school trade programs and shop classes were phased out. Concerned parents pushed their kids to pursue four-year degrees and white collar careers. The newer generations have lost interest in this field at an alarming rate. This problem will compound as the older generation retires.

To address the youth concern, the Associated General Contractors of America has built support with Congress to fund training programs in our public schools. Bringing back and expanding upon trade programs at the high school level would not only better prepare students for the field, but it would also communicate to the students and their parents that there are valid, high-paying opportunities in the construction industry.

Several universities now offer degrees in construction management, which combines the hands-on education of a traditional trade program with the broad college experience many millennials desire. Complementing this class time with apprenticeship programs is an exceptional way to get students experience on active job sites in various construction trades while still in school. An industry-specific recruiter can help arrange participation in these kinds of programs, which offer workplace visits and other training opportunities. It’s an excellent way to encourage further interest in the field, promote company awareness, and meet the new generation who may be your future employees.

Employers should also consider revamping their benefits packages to entice these newer candidates. Nowadays, candidates tend to be interested more in student debt assistance programs over 401k contributions. Additionally, new studies show that millennials value flexible work schedules and advancement opportunities. A company with a reputation of investing in its employees has a greater chance of engaging young, eager candidates.

It’s important for employers to modernize their recruitment tactics as well to reach these millennial candidates. Over 80% of college seniors say they are more likely to apply for a job if the employer is active on social media. Giving prospective candidates an idea of what active job sites and conditions are like, along with highlighting success stories are important ways to convey that your company has a desirable work atmosphere.

The Bottom Line

Promoting a positive image of the business is essential to attract new or even gainfully employed candidates. Maintaining a good reputation and providing competitive salary and benefits is crucial, but the top priority is to communicate the company’s dedication and willingness to invest in the growth of its employees, whether they’re still in school, a new-hire, or a longtime employee..

Electrical Search Group is an industry-specific recruiter specializing in commercial and industrial construction.  We’re poised to match the highest qualified candidates with the top companies in the industry. Explore our website, or visit our contact page to reach us directly.


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