Rebuilding the Construction Workforce in a Post-Pandemic Boom

While many were looking forward to the beginning of the new decade, 2020 turned out to be one of the most challenging years in recent memory for the construction industry. The COVID-19 pandemic had direct and indirect effects on the industry, making it difficult or even impossible to complete projects because of a lack of skilled labor and a growing number of supply chain challenges.  Things haven’t gone entirely back to normal, but they are heading in the right direction, and the construction industry is looking at a post-pandemic boom during the second half of 2021 and beyond. How can companies rebuild their workforce ahead of this anticipated boom?  Construction Labor & Material Shortages Create Challenges  Working through the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for everyone. There were long stretches of time where companies weren’t sure if they were allowed to work or not, whether their tasks were considered essential or non-essential, and how to manage social distancing on a construction site where everyone usually works shoulder to shoulder.  According to an industry expert, the industry as a whole has just “bumped along.” Between May 2020 and July 2021, the industry is still down by more than a quarter-million jobs in the United States alone.  This isn’t an unprecedented drop. The construction workforce has been on a downward trend for many years. Companies surveyed during 2020 reported that 81% of them were having trouble filling positions, both salaried and hourly, and nearly three-quarters of them were expecting labor shortages to be their biggest challenge in the coming year.  Add the fact that material costs are still climbing — up more than 24% over the last year — and companies are struggling to recover from the pandemic that turned the entire world on its ear.  Rebuilding a Struggling Workforce  Rebuilding an already struggling construction workforce is going to be one of the biggest challenges that companies will face in the second half of 2021.  In March, Associated Builders and Contractors projected that companies would need to hire upwards of 430,000 more workers than they employed the year before in order to meet demand. With the industry expected to be worth $1.45 trillion by the end of 2021, now is the perfect time to get ready to take advantage of the expected resurgence in the construction industry.  That starts with taking all the necessary steps to bring in new skilled workers, as well as approaching existing workers who may have left the industry due to a lack of work or the pandemic itself.   Outreach can bring in workers if organizations and construction companies are creative and willing to share training resources. Community colleges and vocational schools, along with other community programs like the Goodwill Skills Training Center or the YouthBuild Construction Skills Program, can always use support and guidance from local construction organizations.  Youth outreach and adult education centers can assist new workers in finding pathways into the construction industry for years to come. Getting connected now can help your organization make a mark with new recruits and help financially support educators and students, too.  mette-van-der-linden-UtE6Qe22gko-unsplash - 350x350 Getting Ready for the Boom  Community outreach isn’t the only method to achieve future success. Education and training programs are incredibly valuable, but it takes time for them to make their maximum impact on the labor force. In the meantime, companies can also make internal changes to overcome labor market obstacles.  What can companies do to boost themselves up to get ready for the impending construction boom? Here are some ideas: Bolster existing workforces. The ongoing training and success of your existing team will help your organization navigate any challenge. Prepare your workers for future success and focus on retaining their talent and loyalty in years to come.  • Offer incentives and understand the importance of a work-life balance. Many people have come to understand how important it is to separate work from their home life while they worked at home during the pandemic and will fiercely defend that divide. • Prepare for increased material costs. People may be coming back to work, but supply chain issues and substantial tariffs on imported materials mean companies will pay more, regardless of the size of their workforce. • Track the market. Right now, there is more call for single-family homes over multi-family dwellings. Single-family dwellings are up by 13% while apartment buildings and other multi-family units are down by more than 40%. • Be prepared for resurgences. The COVID-19 delta variant is currently sweeping the globe, and countries and states may begin reimplementing lockdowns and other safety mandates. Be ready — the global population isn’t collectively out of the woods just yet. There is a lot of potential to be had in the coming years. It just takes a keen eye to see where the opportunities are and how to take advantage of them.  We Can Rebuild the Workforce  The construction industry is set to expand exponentially in the coming years. While it’s always been expected to bounce back, it’s up to individual business owners to help determine whether it falls apart or bounces back even stronger than before. Don’t wait. Companies looking for a way to set themselves apart from a brutally competitive pack will find that this is the perfect time to start working. 

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Evelyn Long

Evelyn Long is the editor-in-chief of Renovated, an informational resource for construction professionals. She writes on green building, construction...

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