The U.S. construction industry's labor shortage continues to worsen in 2018, according to the recently released Autodesk-Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) Construction Workforce Shortage Survey. Among the 2,500 contractors surveyed, 80% report difficulty hiring qualified workers, particularly in the hourly craft positions. The percentage indicates that the shortage continues to grow, up 10% from 2017’s reported 70%.  

"There’s no better time than now [to get into the industry]," says Sarah Hodges, senior director, construction business line at Autodesk, adding that the results of this survey should serve as "a call to action for the industry at large."

In the past four years, annual surveys have repeatedly indicated that contractors are having difficulty finding qualified workers, particularly for hourly positions. However, the problem has grown considerably during this period. In 2014, only 27% of survey participants reported that they were having trouble hiring workers; the following year, the number shot up to 86% before settling at 69% in 2016.

"Contractors are spending longer filling jobs, and have fewer experienced workers to choose from," says Ken Simonson, chief economist at AGC.

Simonson notes that while demand for construction continues to grow in many parts of the country, the survey shows that contractors "have a low opinion of the quality of the pipeline for recruiting and preparing new craftworkers." Nearly 50% of respondents felt that training for workers was poor, up from 37% last year. For the fifth year in a row, only 2% indicated that they considered training to be excellent.

While staffing been a growing problem for several years, 2018 is the first year in that period that participants felt the year to come would see increased hardship. Last year, reports indicated while the majority expected conditions to remain poor, only 21% predicted they would worsen. Over the next 12 months, 48% of contractors expect this problem to worsen.

Expectations were roughly the same across all regions: 50% of contractors in the southern region believe that hiring will continue to become more difficult, while the Midwest was on the lower end, at 45%. Firms of all sizes report that they are looking to hire, with pipelayers, sheet-metal workers, carpenters and welders being among the hardest positions to fill.

"With a rise in the share of firms having trouble finding skilled craftworkers, it's evident we need to re-skill the future workforce," says Hodges. 

To mitigate these challenges, many firms have made changes to their hiring practices. Sixty-two percent of the surveyed firms increased base pay rates, while nearly a quarter improved benefits. Fifty-six percent of firms have also raised pay for salaried employees, and 34% are offering bonuses. Additionally, 46% report increased in-house training, while 33% have hired interns and 26% have changed hiring standards.