A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

141 Ideas for Solving the Construction Industry’s Labor Shortage

So, you’re a regular reader of Construction Citizen and you’re thinking, “I already have 141 ideas for solving the construction industry’s labor shortage!”

Stick with me because not only am I going give you 141 hot-off-the-press ideas that our local leaders recently developed; I’m also going to share one big idea that I believe will solve this Gordian Knot once and for all.  I’m going to present the idea here on Construction Citizen, then I hope to continually report on progress in the months and years ahead.

We are fortunate here in Atlanta to be easing out of the Great Recession.  Tower cranes are returning to our skyline.  There’s a buzz in our city about not one, but two brand new professional sports stadiums.  The Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves are building new venues, nearly $2 Billion worth of construction, on practically the same three-year schedule, set to open in 2017.

As you might imagine, the concern among local contractors is “where are we going to find the workers to handle all of this new construction?”

Indeed, over the last year, Atlanta was second only to Orange County, CA in new construction hires.  According to AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson, Atlanta added 8,500 new construction jobs from October 2012 to October 2013.

Demand for skilled labor is on the rise, not only here in Atlanta, but in many places across the United States.  We at the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) regularly keep an eye on a great resource: an interactive website, powered by USA Today / Moody’s, that projects where the jobs will be by industry sector and by city for the next two years.

In response to the current and projected labor shortage, we launched the Downtown Atlanta Construction Workforce Consortium.  More than 50 executives, HR personnel, and lead field personnel participated in the kickoff on December 11, 2013.  Companies included major general contractors like Holder Construction Company, Brasfield & Gorrie, and Balfour Beatty, as well as major trade contractors such as Marek, McKenney’s, and MetroPower.

The Consortium’s objective is to address the skilled labor shortage in a tangible, measurable way.  Specifically, we will work to identify and leverage existing resources and develop a comprehensive workforce initiative that will provide local, trained workers for construction projects in downtown Atlanta.

We conducted a pre-meeting survey of Atlanta’s top construction employers, which revealed their thoughts about the skilled labor shortage and current efforts to address it.  For example:

  • 79% of employers are having a hard time filling key skilled craft worker positions.
  • The positions they’re having the hardest time filling: Drywall Installers, Carpenters, Pipe Fitters, Welders, HVAC Technicians, Plumbers, Equipment Operators, Electricians, Brick Masons and Concrete Finishers.
  • “Hire local” and other training initiatives to help contractors find employees are severely underutilized by contractors.  For example, 71% of those responding to the survey reported never using Atlanta’s local Workforce Investment Agency.
  • 55% of contractors rated Atlanta’s local talent pipeline as “Below Average” or “Poor.”  The rest rated it as average.  Not a single contractor rated the talent pipeline as “Above Average” or “Excellent.”

With these survey responses, the mission for our Consortium became clear: build a talent pipeline that will consistently be rated as “Above Average” or “Excellent” by contractors who do business in downtown Atlanta.

At our first meeting, we asked attendees to write down specifically what we need to do to build a talent pipeline that was “Above Average” or “Excellent”.  We had no fewer than 141 responses, which you may read, still in barely edited, raw format, on our website.

It’s noteworthy that 83% of the responses fit into one of three categories:

  1. Awareness / Recruitment (35%)
  2. Training / Skills Development (30%)
  3. Owner Involvement / Leadership (17%).

The big idea is this: what the construction industry needs is a comprehensive approach to the problem.  And by “comprehensive”, I mean the solution must include the three elements that emerged from our Consortium:

  1. An aggressive, well-funded marketing and recruitment campaign – such as Go Build Alabama is today and Go Build Georgia will soon be. The negative image of our industry is well documented.  A mass media campaign is the best way to change it.
  2. A strong network of industry-developed, industry-certified, industry-driven construction training programs.  These are going to be slightly different based on where you are in the country.  But, the basic formula is a mix of strong high school training programs, technical or community college programs, union and/or non-union apprenticeship programs, and private company sponsored programs.
  3. A recognition by local construction owners that they must play a vital leadership role in helping the construction industry build a trained, sustainable and local workforce.  It is ultimately the building owner who is affected by the skilled labor shortage.  Whether it’s through higher labor costs because of supply and demand, missed schedules, or poor quality, the owner is affected.  It’s in the owner’s interest to be proactive on this issue, and their involvement is key to solving the skilled labor shortage.

I am proud to report that we have at least the beginnings of these three elements in place here in Atlanta.  Over the coming months and years, I look forward to sharing with you the progress of the Downtown Atlanta Construction Workforce Consortium.


Victoria's picture

Wow, what a wealth of information here and nice research on the topic along with it. Keep up the good work.

Jesse Rosales's picture

If companies are not going to offer affordable benefits, retirement, and a sustainable wage, why would anyone do this work? Skilled workers build structures that last longer than anything else in the modern world. From homes and buildings to civil infrastructure, the real value of what is produced by tradespeople far exceeds what they are compensated for. I have worked in right to work states and in the northern Union states. I have worked non-union and now Union. While Unions need reform from within, they still offer a hands down, far more incentive/value to working in the industry as opposed to non-union. An important point to offer to owners and tradespeople concerns labor costs. How is it that the new Falcons stadium could cost around or over 1 billion and at the same time the new 49ers and Vikings stadiums are very similar in cost? Skilled labor is extremely more expensive in Union strong Minnesota and San Francisco. So, tell me where the difference lies? Owners should really do their homework because this is a classic example of the false claim that Unions cost too much and it isn't possible to compensate workers with a sustainable wage. This skilled labor shortage is an easy fix.

Best regards,

Jesse Rosales

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