How Can the Construction Workforce Be Regenerated?

In this blog series, you will find out that the skills gap is very real, in the construction industry, challenging companies to increase their agility and innovation in hiring and training workers.

The construction industry has a bad image when it comes to recruiting new staff, as people believe the jobs are dirty, dangerous, and not well paid.

The reality is different. A lot of new skills are required in today’s construction projects using innovative technologies such as mixed reality, lasers, laptops, robots, and artificial intelligence.

The future of the construction industry is exciting, and the technology enables projects to be built better, faster, safer, cheaper, and greener.

New jobs have been created in the industry in recent years, like:

  • virtual design and construction manager,
  • director of construction technology, and
  • advanced technology manager.

The technology and BIM (Building Information Modelling) require new ways of working. It is more innovative, challenging, interesting, collaborative, and efficient.

A technology ecosystem is designed to enhance productivity and requires a different understanding of how to manage projects.

In the 2008 economic crash, a lot of skilled construction workers left the construction industry worldwide, creating a harsh labor shortage. Since then many baby boomers, who represented a big part of the construction skilled workforce, have retired.

The covid pandemic in 2020 forced people to leave the industry as projects were cancelled. It also made people, who work from home, with fewer face-to-face meetings, use more of the home working technologies. Technology helped automate some of the processes to fight the labor shortage but did not completely overcome the issue and the industry has not fully recovered to satisfy the demand for projects in the backlog.

There is a shift from old school workforce to a more savvy, innovative staff embracing new technological changes to manage projects, generating a unique opportunity for the industry to attract a new type of worker that in the recent past did not even consider the construction industry as a possible career path.

  • Would the industry be able to attract and retain these people?
  • Who are these new people?
  • Are they very different from the current workforce which is mainly made of white middle-aged men?

The college graduates, in AECO (Architecture, Engineering, Construction and Operation), nowadays are more diverse. There is a larger proportion of color and female graduates. In fact, female graduates tend to outnumber male graduates.

The young population is more diverse but it will take a long time to change the mix in management roles to reach equal representation in the workforce ethnicity and gender.

Many firms in the construction industry are actively trying to recruit more women and people of color, but the negative perception of the industry is not making it easy for them.

In the USA, according to a 2018 survey from the National Association of Home Builders, of adults aged 18 to 25 who were undecided about their career aspirations, 63% said there was little to no chance they would consider construction, regardless of the salary, which was around $68,000 for entry-level managers versus $48,000 for all college graduates in 2016.

Universities have developed courses adapted to the new generation of students who have never known life without technology. They provide highly specific technical skills needed for immediate jobs — from 3D modeling to simulations, robotics, etc...

How to change the construction industry perception?

More marketing should be made in schools and colleges by having construction professionals visit classrooms to explain the digital transformation the industry is going through, providing students with greater awareness of the variety of high-tech construction jobs available today.

Some software companies like Plannery are offering free licenses for students.

Many firms donated hardware and software tools to give students practical hands-on experience.

The various associations of the construction industry should relay the message that construction careers, which were deemed "essential" during the pandemic, are more secure than other industries that suffered economically due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Training from Unions should be offered to workers, on new technologies, to enhance learning through their union certifications.

What is the Future like?

While it's clear that today's emerging workforce would be a good match for the construction industry. Government and industry should put measures in place to reconstruct the pool of construction labor talent to secure the industry’s future.

Various governments worldwide, due to the pandemic, have decided to invest in infrastructure and new homes. This certainly will help show that the industry has changed and is a great place to work, with plenty of new job opportunities where many technical innovations are happening.

This should give young people more reason to join the construction industry workforce.

In Conclusion

The spread of COVID-19 and efforts to limit its effect on the population had a substantial impact on construction activity and employment. In 2020, construction spending rose by 4.8% but employment fell by 6.3% highlighting the need for more recruitment required in 2022.

Here are the factors contributing to this apparent contradiction:

  • Building materials and labor costs increased significantly due to shortages and supply chain disruptions.
  • Residential construction grew quicker than other segments driving prices higher.
  • More automation has been introduced in processes to compensate for the reduction in labor supply, eliminating repetitive and dangerous tasks making the industry safer and more attractive for young talents.
  • Automation and collaboration made the scheduling and logistics of building materials delivery less cumbersome.
  • Increased use of prefabrication and modularization requiring different and less-skilled workers.
  • A decrease in the number of smaller, less efficient construction companies which went out of business made the industry more technically savvy, productive, and more attractive for new workers.

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