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Subcontractor Performance Risk

Recruiting and Training the Construction Workforce of Tomorrow

Cheri Hanes | February 3, 2023

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The only constant is change, they say. Nowhere is that truer than in construction. Whether considering materials, means and methods, or technology, to build is to adapt.

Today, the need to adapt is coming from three primary arenas: labor shortages, technology, and sustainability—the imperative to build with a lower carbon footprint. The construction workforce of tomorrow will need a new set of skills to address these factors.

In some ways, this is all great news when it comes to worker retention and recruitment. How so, you might ask? Consider the following facts.

  • Employees tend to stay when their employers invest in their career development and are likely to have higher morale, so companies' investments in upskilling pay real dividends for both the construction workforce—and their employers.
  • Millennials and Generation Z are likely to be primed to engage in firms' sustainability efforts. According to a recent study done by marketing firm Cone Communications, these groups cited "seeking out employment at companies that demonstrate a commitment to responsibility" as a top priority.
  • Younger hires are also likely to be digital natives, for whom the idea of using technology is a positive, not a problem to overcome; their passion for technology can light a fire under the innovation efforts of an entire organization. And firms will need that! Just 10 years ago, who could have imagined that there might be robots or autonomous vehicles involved in construction?
  • Women and people of diverse ethnicities represent a largely untapped pool of potential candidates, and they bring with them unique perspectives and problem-solving skill sets. Hiring them is not just a necessity; it makes organizations better.

In other words, a perfect job for these generations is all about technology, problem-solving, and saving the planet, and this is what's on offer by today's construction industry. We just need to get that message out there!

There are still major challenges around recruitment. According to a model developed by Associated Builders and Contractors, the industry will need to bring in approximately 650,000 additional construction workers above normal hiring. As of now, backlogs are at record highs; even if a slight recession is factored in, the need for workers remains dire. The industry must find new ways to attract, train, and retain talent. So, what are some ways to do that?

Look Inside: Embrace Upskilling

There is a bright side to the need to train and retrain the workforce: Employees tend to stay when their employers invest in their career development and are likely to have higher morale. A cross-trained workforce is a benefit to any employer. Companies should embrace the chance to offer training that allows their workforce to become the answer to their emerging needs. The results are happier employees that are familiar with the way the companies do business and that are already onboarded—this is a win any way you look at it.

There can also be great results when firms involve the current workforce in technology and sustainability decisions, as champions often develop as a result. These leaders then have the potential to become not only proficient with the skills needed but to be cheerleaders and trainers, bringing others along on the journey.

Look Outward: Reframe the Offering

Construction is a field with competitive wages, opportunities for merit-based promotion, and a vocation to be proud of. Construction workers leave a legacy that makes immeasurable differences in how we live, work, learn, and play. Those already involved know this, but the message is not well communicated.

Today's technology and innovation in the industry mean that more construction jobs require logic and finesse, and fewer require brute force. This is an opportunity to move away from the image of construction as a low-tech, dangerous, and dirty industry. This new skill set attracts a different group of participants to the job pool; firms should market their positions as such and seek out opportunities to shift the narrative.

Look in New Places: Embrace Diversity

Caucasian men have been the backbone of the construction workforce, but clearly, more options are needed. The industry will have to look to additional sources of talent to fill the gap. This is positive! Diversity has benefits beyond creating a larger candidate pool; research indicates that groups with varied experiences and backgrounds reach faster, more creative solutions to problems, and all organizations need that.

And the benefits don't just come from problem-solving: A recent McKinsey study shows a 25 percent increase in the likelihood of financial performance above the national average in firms in the top quartile of combined gender and ethnic diversity. It seems that diversity of thought and skills can lead to a stronger balance sheet. So, how can firms embrace this potential?

When speaking to the entire workforce available to the industry, it is important to consider ways in which your employment tools themselves indicate that only a certain type of candidate is fit for the job: terms like manpower, tradesmen, or journeyman all may have the effect of dissuading some applicants.

Also, consider your degree requirements. For each position, assess whether a degree is truly key or if it's possible to focus on certifications and particular skills to increase the field of candidates. This is not just useful for external candidates—there are people in organizations right now that think they can't make another move because of degree requirements in job listings. Those people might be very willing to get a certification if they knew there was an opportunity for them to advance. Directly communicate with high-potential employees so they know that they have a path, and revise your recruiting language where applicable.

The right marketing materials can also allow diverse people to "see" themselves in construction roles. The industry benefits when construction companies' websites show a diverse workforce. This is probably more powerful than we give it credit for, especially when the diversity reaches all the way to the C-suite, as this allows current and future employees to see that construction is a career in which they can have a future—not just a job. This translates directly into talent attraction and retention.

Look for Ways To Be a Part of the Solution

Engage with organizations that are working to help develop the skills required and increase the number of workers interested in construction. This may include nonprofits, public sector workforce agencies, labor unions, community and technical colleges, or high schools offering construction apprenticeships and vocational or technical courses. These organizations' very important efforts fall flat in the absence of employer engagement; both entities benefit from this type of partnership.

Once workers are hired, or a need for a new skill is identified, training is the next step. Where will this training come from? The answer is a mix of old and new methods.

Traditional Training Methods

Think strategically about the training needs and existing solutions. For example, what skills would be needed for a remote equipment operator? There are already models out there where this type of work takes place. Railroad traffic control is managed in remote dispatching centers. That work used to be done by networks of local operators who controlled traffic along the line in the place where they were assigned. There may be opportunities to leverage those similar models.

Brand New Training Methods

It's an interesting loop—the same techs for which we need to upskill the workforce also empower the delivery of training online, via virtual or augmented reality or in a gamified method. Explore the offerings and take full advantage.

Add Different Methods

Everyone is familiar with the concept of mentoring, but consider something less traditional—reverse mentoring. New hires come with new knowledge; finding ways to leverage and spread that knowledge benefits everyone. When a new hire comes on board, take the time to understand their skills and formalize ways that they can share them.


Even with the challenges involved in hiring and retraining so many workers, there are also many advantages. The loyalty and diversity of thought it may create are valuable, could lead to better retention, and could develop more nimble organizations.

It's incumbent on the construction firms to ensure they hire diversely and well, to provide adequate ongoing training to make teams ready for the projects of tomorrow, and to invest in the workforce as what it truly is: the future of construction.

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