Nearly Three-Quarters of Contractors Having Difficulty Finding Qualified Workers, Survey Finds

(Photo: AISC)

Seventy percent of construction firms report they are having a hard time filling hourly craft positions that represent the bulk of the construction workforce, according to the results of an industry-wide survey released by Autodesk (an AISC member) and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). Association officials said that many firms are changing the way they operate, recruit and compensate, but cautioned that chronic labor shortages could have significant economic impacts absent greater investments in career and technical education.

“In the short term, fewer firms will be able to bid on construction projects if they are concerned they will not have enough workers to meet demand,” said Stephen Sandherr, CEO for AGC.  “Over the long term, either construction firms will find a way to do more with fewer workers or public officials will take steps to encourage more people to pursue careers in construction.”

Of the more than 1,600 survey respondents, 70% said they are having difficulty filling hourly craft positions, Sandherr noted. Craft worker shortages are the most severe in the West, where 75% of contractors are having a hard time filling those positions, followed by the Midwest where 72% are having a hard time finding craft workers, 70% in the South and 63% in the Northeast.

The labor shortages come as demand for construction continues to grow. Sandherr noted that construction employment expanded in 258 out of 358 metro areas that the association tracked between July 2016 and July 2017, according to a new analysis of federal construction employment data the association also released. Growing demand for construction workers helps explain why 67% of firms report it will continue to be hard, or get harder, to find hourly craft workers this year.

Tight labor market conditions are prompting firms to change the way they operate, recruit and compensate workers, Sandherr noted. Most firms report they are making a special effort to recruit and retain veterans (79%), women (70%) and African Americans (64%). Meanwhile, half of construction firms report increasing base pay rates for craft workers because of the difficulty in filling positions. Twenty percent have improved employee benefits for craft workers and 24% report they are providing incentives and bonuses to attract workers.

Forty-six percent of firms also report they are doing more in-house training to cope with workforce shortages while 47% report they are increasing overtime hours and 41% are increasing their use of subcontractors. In addition, 22% report they are increasing their use of labor-saving equipment, 11% are using offsite prefabrication and 7% are using virtual construction methods, like BIM.

“The ongoing labor drought continues to put pressure on the already high-risk, low-margin construction industry,” said Sarah Hodges, director of the construction business line at Autodesk. “As labor challenges continue to grow, technology will play an increasingly important role supporting the existing workforce.”

Sandherr called on federal, state and local officials to act on the measures in the association’s Workforce Development Plan to address the growing worker shortages. In particular, he urged the Senate to pass legislation to reform and increase funding for the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

The survey was conducted in July and early August. Click here to see the national survey results, analysis of the data and regional and state-by-state results.