Beyond the Build

Construction Trends

Overcoming a Construction Talent Crunch

As an industry, the recent years have taken us  through some lows. As we continue to look ahead and heal, it’s important to consider and overcome what could hold us back.

At a recent breakfast, Brian Moore of FMI presented three challenges ahead of us, and some thoughts on how to keep them at bay.

1. Availability of entry-level employees.

The population of 15 to 24-year-olds is up by a million. This means we have an abundance of college graduates and not enough positions to offer them. In fact, we are having a hard time finding people to mentor them. That’s because our leaders are getting older.

2. Aging U.S. population

As Baby Boomers age and begin to retire, a generation of experienced workers is leaving the field. Project superintendents are particularly endangered. There are not people in the lower level management positions–folks in their 30s and 40s, traditionally thought to be in their working prime–to step up and fill vacancies.

3. Impact of immigration practices on the labor pools.

Hispanics make up 11% of the U.S. workforce and represent 30% of construction’s work pool. This population sector is growing rapidly. We have yet to see what this will mean for the growth and increased impact of Hispanic-owned contracting businesses, but we’d be wise to embrace their expertise.

Solutions to all three of these issues might lie in our industry’s reputation. When ranked 200 job titles in terms of desirability, not a single construction title placed in the top 100. In fact, 10 industry job ranked lower than “maid” and 5 lower than “nuclear demolition technician.” Wow!

So how do we address these problems? Here is our take:

In the last 12 months, we have hired two new building science graduates. These positions were offered before college graduation. We have assigned sponsors within our company for each to ensure they are integrated into company policies, are well-treated and welcomed. To us, the key is to mentor and acclimate, once you have the good talent.

We are not finding difficulty locating good project superintendents in their 30s. Maybe it’s because we’re hiring younger folks and then making efforts to retain them?

As for immigration, that is a tough one. While we have not seen the impact of the recent state immigration laws, I do believe it will impact us, raising cost. Hopefully, if we can ever get a Congress with any sort of consensus, national policy and laws will come into play. Until then, we are seeking out workers who are in the U.S. legally. Labor cost will rise and fall depending upon the law of supply and demand, but we intend stay aboveboard.

What’s your take? Are there other ideas are out there that might be helpful?


Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.