June 9, 2021
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, job openings have risen from roughly 5 million in March 2020 to 11.3 million in June 2022. Contractors in particular have struggled with an ongoing construction labor shortage dating back to the mid-2000s, and neither the pandemic nor the recent “Great Resignation” have helped matters. The industry will need to attract an additional 650,000 employees during 2022 in order to meet building demands, according to Associated Builders and Contractors.
Hiring construction workers has never been more difficult, and there are few signs that the upcoming generation will be anymore enthusiastic about joining the industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average age of employees in construction has been steadily climbing, which begs the question, how do you attract and hire young talent into your construction company during a labor shortage?
As a member of Gen Z, I can understand the hesitancy of many younger people to enter the industry, however, hiring construction workers doesn’t have to be such a problematic task. The current work environment is changing, and so can the construction industry in order to keep up and remain a viable career option for many young adults entering the workforce. This requires you to be not only willing to change, but also knowledgeable about how you should change.
Below, I recommend three best practices for hiring construction workers and retaining young talent in today's changing environment:
Society’s view on what a career should look like has continually shifted over the years, and naturally, Gen Z has its own idea of how a career path should form. Unlike some past generations, we are not looking for a stable although static career path that one day results in a sufficient 401k. Gen Z is much more interested in careers that offer opportunities of growth, clear career paths to multiple work environments, and customization.
Hiring construction workers in today’s environment takes more than the promise of a paycheck at the end of the week. Successful hiring will answer questions such as, where can I be in five years from now, how much flexibility do I have in this career path, and what mentors can empower me to succeed in my chosen path?
After seeing the impact of a recession and now a global pandemic, Gen Z is less likely to trust any career to provide security. Clear career paths, support, and growth opportunities are all key to regaining that trust.
Successfully hiring construction workers may take more than a paycheck, but the benefits such as compensation still play a huge role. According to one study, only 69% of Gen Z feel that they are paid fair wages, which is 7% less than other generations. In general, we are more likely to be dissatisfied with our employers—32% more likely to leave our workplace than millennials, and twice as likely than Gen X. Only 76% of Gen Z members stated that their company provided a psychologically and emotionally safe workplace, 7% percent less than previous generations.
While millennials grew up in the economically thriving 90s, my generation has seen its share of financial upheaval and are therefore less focused on making a difference, and more focused on the benefits offered. This results in a more competitive market where companies need to offer better wages and benefits in order to hire construction workers. While this might create some difficulties, it also provides huge opportunities for construction companies. After witnessing the college debt amassed by the previous generation, Gen Z is more likely to search for high paying jobs that don’t require years in the classroom.
Raising wages has been a key tactic in hiring construction workers during the labor shortage, but it is also an accurate response to the level of risk involved with construction. Many construction workers spend long hours in difficult weather conditions while working with dangerous equipment. Hazardous conditions and safety risks are understandably a barrier to some entering the industry. Both as an incentive and as an ethical principle, the benefits of the industry should reflect the risks.
In addition to career planning and improved benefits, we as the younger generation are searching for jobs with modern work environments. Hiring construction workers will always be difficult if the industry is continually behind the curve, and young generations decide to search for careers elsewhere. As a response, construction companies can focus on three specific areas to transform their workplace into a modern working environment: diversity, flexibility, and technology.
A key factor in any industry is the growth of diversity and the opportunities that it brings. Diversity allows for a growing talent pool and labor force. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 10.9% of the construction labor force is made up of women, which is a relatively small number compared to the percentage of women in other industries. However, this number is growing, and provides an opportunity for more women to enter the industry, paving the way for future generations.
Additionally, many construction companies have made Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or DEI programs, a top priority in the wake of significant social justice movements we’ve seen in recent years. These programs aim to promote workforce diversity, provide safe harbors for workers to share their stories or voice concerns, and crack down on incidents of racism, sexism or other acts of intolerance in working environments.
When hiring construction workers, this raises the question, how are you pursuing a diverse workforce, and how are you supporting them and their communities in your work environment? How are you ensuring they feel safe in the workplace, and what are you doing to support their differences? All of these questions should be considered when building a diverse workplace.
One of the most prominent trends in the workplace, specifically as a result of COVID-19, is the move towards more flexibility in the workplace. More and more, those in my generation are seeking careers that afford flexibility on a day to day basis, however, the construction industry is not known for its flexibility.
Although flexibility is difficult for the construction industry due to the nature of the work, implementing guidelines and procedures for flexibility is possible and even necessary in some situations. For example, during COVID-19, many were forced away from work in order to care for their friends and family. Allowing for flexibility shows how a company cares for its employees, which raises morale, and makes that company a more attractive prospect when hiring construction workers.
Finally, it’s important to note the role of technology in the construction industry and in the lives of my generation. Members of Gen Z have often been referred to as “digital natives,” which points to how comfortable we are with technology. However, technology also carries an innovative spirit that is attractive to many of us. Technology helps transform a career of the past into something of our generation—and of generations to come. In order to be successful at hiring construction workers, it’s essential to embody the modern work environment, and technology can help you get there.
This means connected, cloud-based software, digitized data and workflows, automation, data analytics, machine learning and AI, robotics, drones, and so much more. What it doesn’t mean is working with manual processes where there doesn’t need to be: pen and paper; data collection or sharing that requires multiple, cumbersome steps and extra work; doing things “the way they’ve always been done,” when faster, more efficient processes exist—and can be easily implemented.
In addition to construction technology being an attractive signal of a modern environment, it is also essential to the construction industry as a whole. For more on how technology is changing construction and what it means for contractors, visit The Future is Now: Why Connected Construction is a game Changer.
Hiring construction workers in today's economy is a huge obstacle for many in the industry, but by following the key points outlined above, you can gain a head start on the competition, and recruit the workforce of the future. Best of luck and happy hiring!
June 9, 2021