By Jeff Makela
As we ease out of the COVID pandemic, the construction industry is experiencing a deficit of workers and this trend is posing a serious challenge for construction companies. People working in the trades are asking the million dollar question, “where did everyone go?” Speculation includes a wave of retirements, career changes, COVID-19 death and illness, and even building tiny homes on wheels and heading out to the west coast are rumored to be contributing factors. According to a model developed by the Associated Builders and Contractors, the construction industry will need to attract nearly 650,000 additional workers on top of the normal pace of hiring in 2022 to meet the demand for labor. It is mind boggling.
The labor shortage is not unique to the construction industry. Organizations across all market sectors are experiencing similar challenges – where to find qualified skilled people. In addition, many companies are experiencing employee turnover, which is at an all-time high.
Construction has always had a reputation for being a tough, physical career. No doubt about it, construction is hard work and many jobs are physically demanding. Finding key people to manage projects and put the work in place has become a focused issue. Construction work is not highly sought out as a career choice as it once was. Young adults are more apt to select higher education than a job in the trades. A recent survey from the Associated General Contractors of America found nearly nine out of 10 contracting companies were unable to find skilled workers to complete projects. All of this is creating a snowball effect – projects are now being more scrutinized and handpicked in order to meet the demands of the organization’s labor resources. This in turn drives up the cost of construction or limits projects and in the end, everyone is paying the price.
After nearly 40 years of personally working in construction and “seeing it all,” I recognize a challenge we are facing as an industry is the caliber of workers filling construction positions. Proficiency and straight out interest by young people in construction is on the decline. In a 2022 online article by ProHome Resource Center, construction work is seen as unstable, and young people are not encouraged to enter the field. Despite there being many openings and rising salaries, young people are not entering the profession at a pace that is necessary to sustain the needs of the industry.
Based on my experience, it is my opinion that a high percentage of young people are no longer being raised in an environment that demands physical work and the dependency on modern technology leaves young people unprepared for the aspect of hard labor. An online article from Prudential (https://news.prudential.com) states that 58% of young adults to the age of 30 are still living with their parents. Are people waiting for “opportunity to come knocking?” This mindset could be causing an adverse effect on the way we do work within the industry. The foundation of every successful construction project is heavily reliant on a well-grounded, consistent workforce.
Welliver knows it’s not business as usual. We recognize the challenges and understand the need to work within the parameters we have. Challenge accepted. Welliver is figuring it out, implementing innovative ways to recruit and retain our people, and grow as a company in an ever evolving industry.
So, what can we do to motivate people to build a career in construction? At Welliver, we are being proactive by sharing the knowledge and experience of our veteran workers and instilling that value in our current and future employees. We encourage our superintendents to shadow, mentor, and train our younger individuals on our projects, so they get true field knowledge. This is something that cannot be taught in a classroom. Our veteran employees share their stories and are key examples to our younger employees of how the work has paid off for them. We are checking the pulse more often and making it a point to engage with our field personnel daily to resolve situations before they become issues. Positive news: benefit packages offered by trade unions help to make the job more desirable. Pensions are being offered (which is rare in today’s job market) along with annuities and healthcare, all of which are included in union memberships.
The bottom line is we are not sacrificing our client’s project – rather rising to the challenge and coming up with creative ways to get the job done. At Welliver, we are committed to engaging with and educating our area students about the advantages of seeking out professions in the construction industry. We are thinking outside the box to attract the next generation of workers and evaluating how we can adapt to the current workforce. It is not business as usual anymore and to succeed and stay in business a company must adapt with the times.
Jeff is a results-oriented person driven by the thrill of beating a deadline at the highest level. Having learned the value of hard work at an early age, he applies lessons learned from previous experiences to motivate manpower; sustain strong project superintendent teams; deliver a customer-driven, organized, and efficient building process; and build career growth paths for workers, which is greatly needed in the construction industry. As General Superintendent for Welliver, Jeff is responsible for the overall status and facilitation of building the right project team, assigning the proper superintendent who is the right fit for the project, training, as well as managing the workforce on the project site. A lifelong construction professional, Jeff plays an integral role in building and strengthening client relationships, creating collaborative environments, and bringing construction workers and the trades into a new era of conducting business. Jeff can be reached at [email protected].