The Builder’s Digest

Overcome the Construction Labor Shortage by Investing in Employees

Posted by Eamonn O'Rourke on Oct 16, 2019 8:05:00 AM

Contractors and construction managers across North America will tell you this is the tightest labor market they’ve ever seen. According to the Associated General Contractors of America, more than 80 percent of construction firms are currently having trouble recruiting for hourly positions.


The labor shortage isn’t just a headache for contractors. It’s causing issues for clients, too. Projects are being delayed, costs are climbing and the quality of work is suffering, writes Bob Sechler, for the Austin Statesman.

And the problem isn’t going away anytime soon.

What Led to the Labor Shortage?

The building and construction industry wasn’t always this way. A combination of factors over time has brought us here. Starting with the construction bust of the Great Recession, many experienced workers and skilled tradesmen left the industry. Even when the economy was back on its feet, those workers didn’t all come back.

Today we’re seeing baby boomers aging out of the workforce but not being replaced by younger generations. Perhaps this trend is due to negative perceptions of construction jobs.

As older builders retire, they take their experience with them, exacerbating the problem. Construction managers are scrambling to fill vacant spots and struggling to train the new generation. These compounded factors paint a bleak picture for the future of the building industry, but some industry leaders are responding to the labor shortage with a more strategic approach.

Mini Case Study: How Leon Williams Contractors is Overcoming the Labor Shortage Strategically

Jimmy Hawkins is president of Leon Williams Contractors based in Maryville, Tennessee. For him, hiring in the challenging construction labor market is about finding the right cultural fit for the company. He shares some lessons learned with other leaders of the building industry:

“Resumes don’t tell the whole story. A lot of times, personality doesn’t show through. During the interview process, we try to get a better feel for them as a person. They have to be the right fit personality-wise. Hiring somebody just to get another person on staff is not worth the compromise to affect everyone else.”

Jimmy said he’s more willing to provide training and education opportunities if he finds a great candidate. He says that, “In this market, even if you don’t have a particular certification we are wanting, if you’re a good fit personality-wise, we will help you get it.”

The strategic part is not lowering your standards just to fill space, but rather finding the right people and training them up.

Ideas for Recruiting and Keeping the Best

Many building professionals are coming to realize that rebuilding the workforce doesn’t have to mean compromising hiring standards or work ethic. There are lots of ways to work and hire smart even in a tight market, including:

Each suggestion presented above offers a different type of solution to combat the labor shortage. Let's unpack these.

 If you want to recruit fresh talent, start at the source and support builders in the making with scholarships, institutional sponsorships and/or apprenticeship programs. If you find a good employee but they don't have enough experience or credentials, train them. Once you’ve acquired and trained skilled workers, it’s extremely important to retain them! Make sure you’re prioritizing employee happiness and quality of life. Pay those raises, give an extra day or two off and remember how valuable everyone on your team is to your company’s success. And if you want to do more with a limited staff, technology can help, but that’s another blog post on its own. 

A Smarter, Healthier Building Workforce

Across North America, building leaders like Leon Williams Contractors are responding to the crisis with strategies that benefit their employees. As a whole, the industry is learning that what’s good for staff is good for business! We’re excited to see the innovations and best practices that are coming out of this challenging time, and we’re hopeful for a bright future ahead.

Feature Image: Unsplash/K. Mitch Hodge

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