In the October 2018 issue of Construction Dimensions, the national publication of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry (AWCI), Mike Holland, COO of Houston-based MAREK and one of our authors, was quoted along with a group of national specialty contractors about the causes and possible solutions to the ongoing skilled labor shortages in the industry. The article, titled THE LABOR SHORTAGE: NUISANCE OR CATASTROPHE? was written by California-based Ulf Wolf who is the senior writer at Words & Images.
We thought that Holland’s comments would be of interest to you, our readers, and so we present them to you.
About the reality of the current labor shortage, “Mike Holland, chief operating officer of Marek Brothers Systems, Inc. in Texas, says the labor shortage is ‘already constricting our ability to pursue work and meet revenue targets. Due to our workforce demographic, we are losing skilled, experienced workers faster than we can replace them.’”
When asked why that is happening, Holland responds, “Immigration issues, industry perception issues and poor industry efforts in recruitment, skills training and in clearly outlining a career path over the last few decades are now coming home to roost.”
Holland, when asked what MAREK is doing to deal with the says, “Ten years ago, we started a formal workforce development program at Marek that was aimed at ensuring the perpetuation of our most vital resource—our people, especially our craft professionals. Still, even after this 10-year focus on recruit, train and retain, we are evolving and learning how much there is still to be done."
“One of the most impactful things we’ve learned is the need to collaborate with other areas of our industry in workforce development. We didn’t bring this situation about by ourselves, and we won’t resolve it by ourselves. Certainly, we are each responsible for our own firm’s performance and practices, but we are measured collectively as an industry by those deciding whether or not to enter our workforce.”
The manufacturing industry has faced the labor cost and shortage problem over the last three decades and “Holland’s view is that the manufacturing community is reacting to the workforce problem with innovation of its own aimed at material, equipment and tools that minimize unnecessary labor and streamline the construction process.”
Holland’s view on the way to address the issue within the industry is that, “It boils down to leadership, leadership, leadership—much like safety and its transformation, the workforce issue must be addressed from the top of an organization, and currently there is not nearly enough comprehension of the depth of our problem and the complex issues we are facing. It will take time for leadership to involve itself in the game, and until then, progress will be slow.”
Changing technologies like BIM, VR, prefabrication offsite, robots, and drones are making their way into the industry today, but more slowly than many would like. Holland believes that the entire design and construction process can be improved when he says, “Exoskeletons? Robots? Who knows? However, if we do not improve the design process, and with it the planning and sequencing of a construction project, then any advancement in robotics, etc. will go largely unrecognized in construction due to our current rather chaotic process.”
A couple of other points made in the article include the thought that many companies are limiting their bidding on future work to only the capacity of the current workforce and that the future will depend on the qualifications of the available workforce. As Holland expressed, this issue took a while to get here and will take us a long time to change.