This past year has been a tough one for U.S. construction, with the value of new project starts down by a quarter from 2008 and industry unemployment standing at 19.4%. Still, that amounts to $419 billion in starts, and nearly six million people working on meaningful projects. Many more will be needed soon. All recessions eventually end, and when this one does, the industry must once again struggle with the issue of how to attract people into construction and keep them there in rewarding careers.
Submitted by: Jen Jonas, Zachry Holdings Inc., San Antonio, Texas
Some people may say this is a silly thing to contemplate when so many people are sitting on the bench without work. But the economy and workforce issues are about to explode in just a few years, probably by the end of 2011, when business is expected to rebound. By then, millions of baby boomers will be retiring, taking with them a lifetime of craft, management, administrative and professional skills. At the same time, demographics point to a big surge in construction, partly driven by pent-up demand and partly by new household formation.
Where is the industry plan to replace the needed skills? There is none, only patches of interest carefully tended by those who realize that people are the industry’s treasure, not trash to be disposed of when the going gets tough.
Some companies have made great sacrifices to hold onto their skilled people during the recession. When the turnaround comes, they will be in the best position to take advantage of it.