Trying to See Solutions to the Construction Industry Labor Shortage

A Sept. 22 article published in Builder magazine entitled “Home Building, Labor, and Immigration; Trying to see solutions to trade capacity constraints, beyond the headlines,” addresses causes and solutions to the ongoing labor shortage in the construction industry. The article can be viewed in its entirety below.

The roofing industry also has felt the effects of this labor shortage and NRCA has identified several key issues it believes are at play.

The first issue is young people are not entering the building trades to the degree they were 30 years ago. Part of the reason is surely cultural: With other opportunities in more “comfortable” fields such as information technology, parents – and most notably high school guidance counselors – think they are doing young people a favor by directing them away from the construction industry. The reality is 35 percent of students who go to college do not complete their first year and often consider themselves to be failures. They typically don’t wind up finding the construction industry as a career option until they are well into their twenties.

The second issue is our national immigration policy.  Whether 570,000 Hispanics have left the construction industry never to return is really beside the point.

The point is – Where do we find our workers? How do we train them and how do we keep them?  NRCA believes that answer is pretty clear- we have to tell the story of opportunity in our industry to immigrants and native-born Americans alike. In addition, we fundamentally have to think about our workforce as something other than a replaceable commodity. That means we have to get past the idea of workers as hourly pay-earners and think of them rather as important pieces in our corporate structure – requiring training, advancement, challenges and all the other things workers in other industries crave.

The third issue is we really need people in the construction industry to pour concrete slabs in 100 F heat, nail shingles spread asphalt and to do a variety of other difficult tasks. But we must make clear to anyone considering entering the construction industry, that those are not career end-points. These tasks are, for the most part, entry-level assignments that create an understanding of, and an appreciation for what it takes to be successful in our industry. Foremen and superintendents who have poured slabs in 100 F heat all day are more likely to be forgiving of others assigned to that task. They’re also more likely to want to help those people advance as well.

At the end of the day, what we offer as an industry is opportunity. There is a lot of hard work in construction, and there is a lot of risk.  But there is ample opportunity, too, and that message is not being told.

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