Photo:Tom Sawyer/ENR
Industry leaders suggest new workforce shortage solutions.

Representatives of a cross-section of construction sectors all facing a common problem—current and looming work force gaps—met recently to come up with solutions to what many predict could be the industry’s most enduring crisis. Among the ideas: Bring back technical education in public schools, expand programs that offer college credit for craft training, find new roles for retiring professionals and remove disincentives to retraining workers laid off from other industries.

“Workers can lose income support if they go into a construction training program,” said Emily Stover DeRocco, assistant secretary of labor for employment and training. She was one of 15 “thought leaders” from sectors that included union and open shop labor, owners, engineers, contractors, construction managers, architects and academics who shared ideas at the ENR-sponsored forum, held Sept. 26-27 in Arlington, Va.

Photo:Tom Sawyer/ENR
Washington forum attracted many diverse points of view.

Several panelists noted the need to boost construction’s image to a new generation of potential employees. “We must create a buzz about the industry—a national presence,” said Michael Stark, director of government affairs for the Construction Management Association of America. “We also need to touch students earlier.” Others noted the industry’s fragmentation, lack of “engagement”  from many employers and unclear government rules on use of undocumented workers, among other challenges.

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  • DeRocco urged the industry to “matrix all resources” that are going into the work force problem to better understand the many efforts under way. William Brubaker, Smithsonian Institution facilities director, noted that skilled labor issues have already been a factor in delays in some agency construction projects. “It’s a big bump in the road,” he said.

    The forum’s roughly 200 attendees voted on a number of steps to pursue, including better pay and working conditions, emphasis on new methods of training and education, productivity improvements, and collaborative efforts to improve the industry’s image.

    McGraw-Hill Construction, a unit of the McGraw-Hill Cos. that includes ENR, will compile conference proceedings into a “white paper”  that will be distributed to industry employers as well as to public sector decisionmakers.