When I consider the workforce-shortage issues plaguing the construction industry today, I am reminded of the expression “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.” 

Our industry faces an issue that, if not immediately confronted, could lead to its ultimate ruin. Even though the lack of craft and project-level labor is the No. 1 issue in the construction industry, little is being done to address it. 

We all agree about the severity of the national problem confronting us. In the Construction Financial Management Association’s CONFINDEX survey, respondents rank the viability of its companies, and they consistently rank the workforce shortage as the greatest concern by a factor of five. Also, 86% of members in an Associated General Contractors of America survey recently reported they were struggling to fill hourly craft jobs or salaried professional positions. 

While there are initiatives underway to address this issue, the real problem is that these efforts are fragmented across individual associations and independent companies. At the heart of the problem is self-interest—everyone is worried about their own market share, and union and non-union associations are hesitant to work together.

This piecemeal approach will not garner the national attention that the construction industry needs to make its case to future generations about why construction work pays off. My proposal is rather simple: All the players in the industry must come together to form a workforce summit and collectively take action. Because the existing efforts have fallen short so far, an industrywide initiative is the only solution.

I am absolutely convinced that a divided construction industry cannot withstand the challenges that lie ahead and will suffer serious consequences if it does not coalesce around a solution to this problem.

Increased exposure for the industry will help everyone.

Future generations are largely unaware of the abundance of opportunities that the construction industry offers. Unfortunately, millennials have grown up in a society that portrays a college education as the only path to success.

Paths to Success

Are the millennials even aware of the paths to success that construction offers? Do they know they can obtain free training or even get paid to learn a desired skill? Further, do they know that once a skilled craftsman or craftswoman leaves an apprenticeship program at age 25, he or she can earn above-average salary and benefits, with opportunities to earn more?

The proposed industrywide workforce summit could lead to a marketing and social-media campaign to promote the various employment opportunities available in construction, including for work in the trades or as an estimator or providing site-level leadership as a foreman, superintendent or project manager. By giving industry stakeholders equal representation and enabling the target audience to decide what it wants to pursue, the campaign could provide a central source of information that helps students and others to decide if they want to be an electrician or an ironworker. It also could give them an overview of all the skilled trades.

If our nation’s future workforce truly understands the depth and breadth of choices our industry provides, perhaps we can reverse the trends that are adversely impacting its ability to attract and retain future talent.

I can think of no initiative more important for the future of the construction industry. If someone has other ideas, we should all be eager to hear them. But, as an industry, we need to stop wringing our hands about the problem and do something—together!

If not now, when?