A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Success Brings Its Own Challenges

This time of year, ENR releases its list of the Top 400 Contractors in the US at a seminar that includes several panels comprised of the leaders of those top contractors. They address some of the key issues that they face moving forward in an economy that has been vibrant for the last decade and which they claim still looks vibrant for the near future.

At the same time that ENR presents its list of the Top 400, they also have a Specialty Contracting Roundtable to discuss some of those same issues from the viewpoint of the subs who are doing lots of work in the hot markets around the country. The issues presented on those panels are on the minds of industry leaders across the country and we thought them newsworthy enough to bring them to you for consideration in this post. Maybe they are the same issues facing you and your business today.

The number one issue across the board is the shortage of qualified workers in every market in the country. Not only is the shortage growing, the talent pipeline is drying up. And the cost of replacement of those key folks on the contracting team is high. One of the top contractors stated that the cost to replace those skilled workers was in the $250,000 range. He also stated that he is, as I expect you are, being careful that other companies are not poaching his skilled craft workers, managers and estimators.

With the worker shortage continuing to grow comes the need for additional training, higher wages and expanded benefits as part of a career ladder that will help retain the current workforce. Of course, there may be workers you may want to have poached and recruited so that you can upgrade the positions. It seems, however, that most who have commented on the issue say that it is more cost effective and efficient to retain and maybe re-position those workers.

Filling the talent pipeline with younger prospects and graduates of CTE programs has become a major effort of both the industry and the schools and colleges. Most are having craft fairs and some of the associations, according to Brian Helm President of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) have created “signing days” like in athletics to attract graduates to the industry and the skilled crafts.

One of the other issues on the minds of the subcontractors was slow pay or the “I will pay you as soon as we get paid.” or “We will pay you as soon as we get our next draw.” There is only so long that subs can afford to work without making weekly payroll. Vince Sandusky, CEO of the Sheet Metal & Airconditioning Contractor’s National Association {SMACNA) was quoted in the ENR article as stating that” A fair and professional process for getting paid on time is long overdue.”

Technology is listed as another of those top of mind issues that subs are scrambling to address.

Technology is coming in many forms right now from the “on the jobsite” activities to BIM and now VR and its various forms. One of the greatest challenges in an industry that is known as a slow adopter of new methods is how to invest in the knowledge, programs and talent required by the new technology. Even the basic “handshake” of the various software from the architects, contractors, subs, materials suppliers and vendors is one that can either get you on the bid list or keep you off. And, according to the leaders of the industry, the rate of technology change is accelerating at the same time that the shortage of qualified workers is also accelerating across the industry. In fact, some of the technological changes are in direct response to the labor shortage.

When asked what their one wish for 2019-20 for the industry would be, Immigration Reform was first on the list followed closely by better cooperation of elected officials in DC. Those two issues go “hand in hand” and are both reaching the critical stage.

Solving the multi-employer pension plan crisis was high on the list of wishes of Vince Sandusky from SMACNA as was “...the full support of the educational system and local communities to expose the younger generations to the trades at an earlier age.”

Courtney Little, president of the American Subcontractors Association (ASA) closed by stating that “There is a movement toward the building industry seeing the specialty contractors as ‘trade partners’ and not just vendors. Little noted that the industry has moved to recognize the contributions of labor and expertise from the Specialty Contractors a move that he feels is long overdue and an area of fertile ground for the future of the industry.

It appears that the industry will remain healthy over the near term and that most everyone is laser-focused on the issues.