Keep in mind that the figures in this post reflect the situation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our world has shifted dramatically in the past few weeks. When this crisis subsides, attracting and retaining top construction talent will be more important than ever before to ensure the success of our industry. Many business leaders are using this time of slowdown to reflect on new innovations that can help them hit the ground running when the economy resumes.
In the US last quarter, 89 percent of businesses in the construction industry reported having at least a moderate level of difficulty attracting skilled workers — a finding that has been consistent since the launch of the Commercial Construction Index in Q1 2017. The story in Canada is similar: the industry needs 307,000 workers over the next decade to keep pace with demand.
There are several reasons for these labor challenges. Firstly, the construction industry lost approximately 2 million workers during the last recession. Many of these workers retired or reskilled to find careers in other sectors.
The workforce that exists today is aging and retiring. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 32 percent of construction workers were between 45-64 years old in 2018. This is particularly problematic in some US cities and Canada where there is also a smaller pool of young people available to enter the labor force.
To make matters worse, there is a lack of interest in construction jobs from Millennial and Generation Z (Gen Z) workers who prefer to pursue finance, marketing, or service roles, and not construction trade jobs. In schools, four-year degrees and white-collar jobs are emphasized over skilled trades and certain vocational programs have been cut altogether.
So, in this climate, how can the construction industry attract more workers to address this worsening labor shortage?
Making Construction Attractive to Millennial and Gen Z Workers
Recent data from the MRINetwork Millennial Hiring Trends Study demonstrates that companies don’t have a good understanding of what is important to Millennial and Gen Z workers and what they expect from an employer.
This blog post suggests three areas construction companies can improve upon to attract younger workers:
- Sustainability and the planet
- Social justice and ethical practices
- Technology and innovation
1. Millennial and Gen Z Workers Care About The Planet
Millennial and Gen Z workers are concerned about the world around them and, according to the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019, their top concerns are climate change, protecting the environment, and natural disasters.
Leaders in construction can appeal to these cohorts by making sustainability part of their culture. There is already social and political motivations to adopt greener building practices so many businesses are already taking action in this area.
For example, concrete producers are adopting innovative technologies like CarbonCure to meet the demand for green building materials. The CarbonCure Technology is appealing to Millennial and Gen Z workers as it reduces the amount of carbon produced in the concrete-making process and it also captures recycled carbon dioxide from other industries and stores it as a mineral in the end product.
Darrin Litteral, Quality Control Manager at Irving Materials, Inc. — a CarbonCure customer — said that the importance of what they were doing with CarbonCure really hit home when his daughter made a special request. In his own words he said, “She’s a High School senior and in Earth Sciences, they’re focused on ideas that can help the environment. When I mentioned CarbonCure, she asked me to talk to her class about what we do to help the community and help reduce carbon emissions. Climate is a hot topic for these kids and it becomes a bigger deal when they get to college. These are tomorrow’s voters and it’s good to know we’re doing something positive for their future.”
These kids will grow up to be the future workforce. Innovating today will attract them to careers in the industry tomorrow.
“Climate is a hot topic for these kids and it becomes a bigger deal when they get to college. These are tomorrow’s voters and it’s good to know we’re doing something positive for their future.”
— Darrin Litteral, Quality Control Manager, Irving Materials, Inc.
2. Millennial and Gen Z Workers Support Social Causes
Millennials' trust in businesses is at an all-time low. Respondents in the Deloitte study do not think highly of business leaders’ impact on society, their commitment to improving the world, or their trustworthiness. Only 48 percent of them believe businesses behave ethically compared to 65 percent in 2017.
Smart employers in the construction industry can capitalize on the opportunity to show Millennial and Gen Z workers that they care about their corporate, social responsibility (CSR). Initiatives can include the promotion of diversity and inclusion in the workforce. Women make up less than 10 percent of the construction workforce. By making workplaces more inclusive to female employees, construction companies can access a new labor market and appeal to Millennial and Gen Z candidates.
CSR efforts can’t just be a marketing ploy. Employers have to talk the talk and walk the walk. Millennial employees will seek to leave an employer if they don’t prioritize their effort to have an impact on local communities.
3. Millennial and Gen Z Workers are Digital Natives and Value Technology and Innovation
Millennial and Gen Z workers are digital natives and expect automation and innovation in the workplace — 49 percent expect new technologies to augment their jobs. Over half of contractors are already using advanced technology on the job site, while 80 percent believe they will be incorporating additional technology over the next three years.
expect to use drones
expect to use equipment tagging
expect to use augmented and/or virtual reality
“The construction industry is changing more rapidly than ever before and advanced technologies present a big opportunity to work smarter, faster and safer – especially when there are millions of construction jobs unfilled.”
— Christopher Griffin, President and CEO, USG Corporation
As businesses strive for more efficient processes to lessen the impact of labor shortages, new technologies are emerging. For example, general contractors are adopting digital-first project management technology like Procore and wearable IoT devices to enhance field productivity and improve worker safety on job sites. Concrete producers are adopting dispatch and quality software like Command Alkon and Jonel to unite data from the quotation phase to job scheduling, order entry, resource planning, material planning, mixing software, dispatch, and delivery. This is helping them reduce waste and control costs by centralizing dispatch processes and performing batching from the plant closest to the delivery site.
CarbonCure concrete producers are also using the new myCarbonCure platform, which grants each producer access to real-time information on the quantity of concrete treated with CO₂ and the resulting CO₂ savings in an hourly, daily, monthly, or yearly timeframe.
These new technologies are also helping to alter Millennials' perception of the construction industry.
Millennial and Gen Z workers may have misconceptions about what the construction industry is like. Those perceptions are changing as businesses evolve to make the industry more attractive to a younger generation.
By adopting sustainable practices, taking a stance on corporate, social responsibility and adopting innovation and new technology, the construction industry can attract more Millennial and Gen Z candidates and end its labor woes.