We’re at a critical crossroads in the construction industry.

The pandemic has changed the economic landscape and forced us all to think about skilled labor and the value of education.

In our 2020 State of Construction Report, we found that the biggest challenge for construction companies centered around finding and keeping dependable crew members.

Challenges in the construction industry

Closing the labor shortage gap doesn’t have an easy fix. There isn’t a single right answer.

However, there are many actionable steps companies can take right now to deal with this challenge.

Keep on reading to find out five strategies that can help construction companies address the shortage of skilled labor and learn how to retain skilled employees.

Why is there a labor shortage?

There are a number of factors influencing the skilled labor shortage:

  1. Skilled workers who lost their jobs during the recession moved to other industries.
  2. Baby Boomers who worked in construction and have in-demand skills are retiring.
  3. Millennials have little interest in the construction industry.
  4. Construction companies haven’t prioritized innovation in their hiring process, leaving certain talent markets untapped.

One of the biggest challenges in attracting new workers are the myths surrounding construction work.

In a 2019 U.S. Chamber of Commerce report, 61% of contractors said that construction jobs were perceived as “dirty” jobs. 55% said that people perceived construction work as needing more brute strength than skill. (Another myth!)

Why it matters

There is no shortage of construction jobs. In 2019, 80% of hiring managers said that they had a difficult time filling hourly craft positions.

The labor shortage is having a ripple effect throughout the entire construction industry. Construction firms are:

  • Forced to ask skilled workers to work more
  • Struggling to meet deadlines
  • Increasing costs for new work
  • Rejecting new projects

All this means that the construction process has slowed down across the country. It’s not fast enough to keep up with our growing population and the demand for new buildings.

By 2050, it’s estimated that ⅔ of the 10 billion people on the planet will live in cities. That requires constructing 13,000 buildings a day. Current labor shortages just aren’t allowing that to happen.

5 strategies to help fix the labor shortage problem

There are a number of things construction companies can do to address and try to fix the skilled labor shortage problem.

These include investing in new technology, improving company culture, addressing language barriers, expanding the workforce to include women, and increasing the use of automation.

1: Invest in new technology

Fixing the labor shortage problem inevitably involves making the most of the existing workforce.

Using the right software can make a big difference in increasing the efficiency of day-to-day operations.

Before construction company Everbuild started using Hubstaff, founder Grayson Whitted found himself spending almost all of his time tracking his crew’s hours and payments.

After implementing Hubstaff, he was able to automate all of this and save a lot of time every week, which he was then able to spend on growing the business.

For Whitted, Hubstaff’s timesheets, location tracking, and project cost reports for construction free up time spent on administrative tasks. They also eliminate any potential human error that can occur naturally when things are done by hand.

Hubstaff for construction

Using mobile-first platforms such as Hubstaff can help to:

  • Attract millennials, who are more likely to adapt to new technology and appreciate the instantaneous feedback it provides.
  • Reduce the time that workers spend waiting for approvals and answers to their questions.
  • Connect workers to their supervisors more easily.

Mobile platforms that can do all of this are available right now, which means that construction companies can start improving their existing operations today.

2: Improve company culture

In order to make construction work more appealing, construction firms and contractors have to define their company culture and then put their values into practice. It’s also important to make sure that potential employees know about their company culture.

Companies with great company culture are easy to spot.

They’re able to retain employees even in industries that are notorious for high turnover (such as construction). Their customers enjoy interacting with workers, and their workers are always happy to train new hires.

Some actionable ways to improve company culture include:

  • Recognize employees that put company values into practice – You could send out an appreciation post through the company app or recognize individual efforts in an in-person meeting. Either way, acknowledging good work sets the standard for others to follow.
  • Share customer feedback with employees – Construction workers are often on the job and never get to interact with customers. By sharing positive feedback, you can show them that their work is appreciated.
  • Give workers more opportunity to provide feedback – Surveying how construction workers feel about their work conditions not only signals that the company cares, but also gives you the opportunity to spot areas for improvement.

3: Address language barriers

In a 2019 study by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, an anonymous employee at a mid-size construction company had this to say about the language gap:

“We are a construction firm that needs manpower. We could hire more Spanish speaking employees if we had managers able to communicate effectively in Spanish. It would open up new labor markets to us.”

In the construction industry, Spanish language skills are most in need, given that in 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 30.4% of construction workers were Hispanic or Latino.

Of all the industries surveyed, construction had the greatest foreign language skills gap. 40% of employers reported that there was such a gap in their company.

Language barriers make construction sites less efficient. More importantly, they impact worker safety. When directions and training are primarily conducted in English, Spanish-speaking workers are at a disadvantage.

The two main ways to help overcome this include making bilingual proficiency a priority during the hiring process and offering language training to existing employees.

4: Expand the workforce to include women

Although women comprise only 10.3% of construction workers, the labor shortage presents an opportunity for more women to be hired.

There are several reasons why there aren’t more women working in construction. Gender bias is at the top of the list, as is the perception that women aren’t suited for construction jobs.

Coupled with the lack of training, it’s no surprise that women have a hard time bridging the gender gap.

The idea that construction requires more strength than skill is a myth that keeps women out of construction work. Just like with men, if proper training is provided, women excel at construction jobs.

Construction companies need to work on dispelling the myths and biases surrounding gender in construction work, as well as develop training programs designed for women.

Including more women in the hiring process would also help.

5: Increase automation

In Hubstaff’s 2020 State of Construction report, we found that 56% of owners and managers spend 11 hours a week traveling between job sites to check on crews.

Our report also showed that 38% of contractors spend more than 5 hours each week on scheduling.

Tasks construction teams spend time on

It’s clear that managers are spending time on things that could be automated.

As we mentioned earlier, Hubstaff solved the scheduling problem for Everbuild. More companies need to optimize their time using automation if they want to increase productivity.

Other examples of potential automation in the construction industry include using drones to inspect sites and monitor inventory and taking advantage of robots such as Sam100.

Bonus: How to retain skilled employees in construction

In our 2020 State of Construction report, we looked at the biggest challenges in the construction industry. 45% of respondents said that they struggled with finding and retaining dependable team members.

This is reflected in the nation-wide turnover rate as well. In June 2020, the total turnover rate in the construction industry was 4.4%.

Although this is lower than some other industries affected by the pandemic (arts, entertainment, and recreation top the list at 8.2%), there are a number of things construction companies could be doing to lower that number even further.

It’s notoriously difficult to retain employees in construction, partly because of the labor shortage. With more positions to fill than people to fill them, workers with sought-after, specialized skills can look elsewhere if a company doesn’t meet their needs.

Companies that do seasonal work also have a high risk of losing workers if they think they won’t have enough work during a certain period of the year.

These tips can help you keep employees around longer.

Manage the workload more carefully

Having a clear, documented record of how much employees are working doesn’t just make a manager’s work easier and decrease the risk of misunderstanding. It also allows workers themselves to get an objective overview of their work.

Using a construction time management app like Hubstaff can help to track completed shifts and organize shift schedules. For seasonal, contracted workers, this can help distribute the workload evenly so they’ll be less inclined to leave.

Perform regular check-ins

Minor issues and disagreements between workers can escalate to major problems if left unaddressed, resulting in a construction worker deciding to leave for another job.

That’s why it’s important to create an environment where crew members feel comfortable going to their supervisors to talk about what’s on their minds.

Supervisors should also check in with their team regularly to diagnose a problem as early as possible. This can be difficult when the crew is distributed in different locations, but making the effort can decrease unnecessary turnover.

Focus on employee training

If you’re trying to grow and manage a construction company the right way, offering continuous employee training is an important part of the puzzle. In a 2019 report, 52% of contractors reported that there is a perception of construction being just a job, not a career.

Offering training in new skills and technologies is a way to show that a company believes in the future of its workers. If workers see a future for themselves in a company, they’ll be less likely to leave.

Looking to the future

While we’re not likely to solve the labor shortage problem in the construction industry any time soon, there’s never been a better time for construction companies to improve existing operations and try to attract new workers.

Investing in new technology and increasing automation will make construction a more efficient industry. Improving existing operations will require that companies address language barriers and start expanding the workforce to include women.

Hubstaff has seen first-hand what a difference time management software makes when it comes to saving time for construction managers. Time tracking with Hubstaff lets companies spend their time on what matters.

Hubstaff Tasks, on the other hand, organizes workflows so that construction companies can focus on the how, not the what.

It might not solve the whole picture, but it’s a powerful first step.

Bookmark this blog for more posts, templates, and in-depth guides to help your construction company succeed.