The problem isn’t going away. The construction industry has long faced a shortage of skilled labor. One might hope a new year would bring good news, but statistics and general sentiment indicate that there will be no breakthrough anytime soon.
Construction businesses currently employ 1.6 million fewer workers than they did in 2007, according to a spokesperson for the American Institute of Architects late last year. And a relatively low industry unemployment rate means there are few available hires. Despite all of the doom and gloom, however, you can still find skilled workers — or create new ones — by looking in the right places.
Look to veterans
If you need skilled labor immediately, it may be time to look beyond your usual hiring pool. One option to consider is veterans. Many are trained in construction-related skills and have worked on building and engineering projects.
From a tax perspective, veterans are also an intriguing choice because of the Work Opportunity credit. This tax break benefits employers that hire individuals who are members of a “target group,” one of which is military veterans. The maximum tax credit that can be earned for each member of a target group is generally $2,400 per adult employee. But the credit can be as high as $9,600 per qualified veteran.
As you might expect, a variety of rules and restrictions apply. Work with your CPA to determine whether and how to qualify for the credit.
Hire more widely
Also consider looking into additional labor networks you may not have previously fully tapped. For example, as recently as 2014, women made up only about 9% of U.S. construction workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But there remains a strong push within the industry to get more women involved. If you do hire from this group, you may want to add or enhance the sexual harassment prevention components of your employee orientation and training program.
Another potential source of skilled labor is your competition. Keep an eye on what other local construction companies might be changing specialties or closing up shop. Obviously, hiring away employees could rub these industry colleagues the wrong way. So be sure to execute this strategy carefully and ethically.
There are a variety of project-management strategies for dealing with a skilled labor shortage. Look into spreading out jobs over longer periods to more easily and evenly distribute skilled labor. Many contractors are also taking a keen interest in integrated project delivery, which is a more collaborative approach that actively seeks to maximize project efficiency — including labor usage.
In addition, if you’re losing skilled laborers or having a hard time hiring, review whether your compensation rates and benefit plans are as competitive as possible. You can use benchmarking data to compare your offerings to those of similar companies.
Fix the future
Looking at the long term, construction company owners should consider themselves ambassadors for the industry. This means:
- Emphasizing customer service,
- Running clean, minimally disruptive job sites, and
- Minimizing your carbon footprint.
Positive publicity is also important. Getting involved in social media not only can promote your company’s services, but also can attract quality employees. Publicizing notable projects with your local print, radio and television media can let the best and brightest skilled laborers in the area know what you do, too. Put (or keep) industry events such as trade shows on your agenda, as well.
In the long term, contractors interested in nurturing tomorrow’s workforce need to get involved in educational outreach. This means starting high school kids in classes and internships that spark their interest in the construction trades. From there, mentorship programs can set them on track for fulfilling careers.
It’s easy to get down about the skilled labor shortage. But just because this problem has been persistent doesn’t mean it’s unsolvable. As you continue to build your construction company’s success, you’ve also got to invest in the success of the industry itself.
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