The construction industry as a whole is facing a well-documented labor shortage, but the trades are being hit especially hard. In addition to the factors affecting the general labor crisis (such as rapid retirement rates and residual effects from the recession), the number of people entering trade schools or entry-level trade jobs has bottomed out due to the increased pursuit of four-year degrees and white-collar jobs over the last several decades. As a result, companies that rely on these trades workers are seeing their timelines, margins, and profits suffer. There are two possible solutions we see to these issues plaguing the industry.
Play the Long Game
The generations that are poised to enter the workforce over the next several years are not currently inclined to enter the trades. However, that may not be due to a lack of interest. Legos have been one of the most iconic toys for many generations, and their popularity has only grown in recent years. Then consider Minecraft, a video game that allows users to mine materials and build increasingly complex structures. Over 140 million copies of the game have been sold, making it one of the top ten franchises in the country. Love of these products can help cultivate a promising market for construction, engineering, and trades jobs -- if the industry can improve its education and marketing campaigns with the up-and-coming generation of workers.
Does your company have outreach programs targeting middle and high schools, local community centers, and two-year colleges? Educating current students about the opportunities within the trades is the first step toward shifting their interests. You might establish internships or co-op programs to encourage students and new workers to explore what your company has to offer, as well as provide training and career planning options. Of course, these are investments that companies need to make in the new generations of workers, but they don’t solve the immediate problems of the skilled labor shortage.
Shift to Prefab & VDC
In the short term, we are seeing companies make up their margins in two different ways. First, companies that are successfully navigating the trade labor crisis are switching gears and increasing prefabrication efforts. This improves efficiency and lowers costs for companies because when the materials are fabricated off site, the in-house labor team can be much smaller because they simply have to put together the materials once they’re on site. In addition, successful companies are placing executive value on the virtual design and construction (VDC) field. Increased planning and precision on the front end from the virtual construction community can reduce the amount of errors and corrections that take place, therefore improving timelines and profitability.
To implement these changes, invest in exceptional talent who can guide your company in the right direction and keep you on the cutting edge. For smaller companies with more limited budgets, some of these investments may seem daunting. But by building up your prefabrication and VDC teams now, you can see larger profit margins and develop repeat business that will be beneficial in the long run. Building relationships with subs and engineers may help lower upfront costs and provide affordable solutions as you take the first steps toward addressing these labor concerns.
Take the First Step
There are solutions at hand for the skilled labor shortage in the trades. It’s simply a matter of dedicating time and resources to make the necessary adjustments and remain competitive. Put key figures in place to bring expertise to your team before your competitors create new processes and produce more profitable projects in spite of their labor issues. The longer you wait to take the first step, the further behind you’ll be.