Answering the Labor Question in 2019

The labor shortage has challenged professionals in 2019, encouraging creative solutions to combat it

By Don Neff

Across all construction trades and professions, our industry is constrained by a severe labor shortage. We all need to contribute to the development and implementation of meaningful solutions for recruiting, training, and retaining qualified workers.

An unskilled labor force can impact budgets, cause schedule delays, and put the GCs at a greater risk for deficiencies. Professional skills training, certificate programs, in-house training programs, and work-study internships can produce trained workers and provide a path to successful employment while addressing the labor shortage issue. Here we explore how technology, training, and education are effective strategies.

Lacking top grade craftsmen, projects require more tedious oversight by field superintendents and construction managers, resulting in greater exposure to systemic, project-wide defects and project delays. Internet-based technologies, which combine project images with the associated narrative in stop-light simplicity, provide builders with real-time quality assurance reporting and related analysis in one digital package that can be acted on as quickly as daily reports are received. Builders and contractors face mounting delivery pressures. Technology-based reporting and tracking provides timely identification and close-out of open quality control items which impact schedule, budget and successful project completion.

Capturing this QA data live in a real-time environment delivers three key benefits: a) evaluation of the trade contractors; b) evaluation of the general contractor’s field team; and c) evaluation of overall project construction performance, all of which can be automatically communicated to the general contractors’ management team and insurance underwriters. Identifying vendor and field related problems through a methodical and real-time quality assurance process can eliminate widespread defects and save public agencies and contractors, and their insurance carriers, millions of dollars in repairs or in lengthy, time-consuming lawsuits.

Both private sector initiatives and public agency solutions can contribute to remedy these labor shortages. Local groups and agencies throughout the country are developing professional training programs and initiatives to highlight careers and opportunities within the industry. Private and non-profit options include structured apprenticeships, state training programs, professional and trade specific certificate programs, and work-study internships. Collaboration between owners, contractors, and educational providers can create effective training programs and stimulate interest in high-demand careers within the industry.

Work-study internships provide a path to entry level experience, greater responsibilities, and potentially higher wages. These include both volunteer and paid positions covering three to six months, varying with the company or public agency and its organizational needs. During high school and college, students benefit directly from relevant work experiences, developing strong work habits and marketable skills. Earning both college credit and respectable wages while gaining valuable experience is a great opportunity and frequently can lead to significant job offers after completion. Contractors, trades, and professional construction firms should also be enhancing internal training plans and programs to increase the skillsets and knowledge of current and future workers.

Education, training, and construction “career-pathing” is a focus in states like Texas, Virginia, and Oregon. Collaborations with industry and educational partners are developing training programs and marketing initiatives to promote careers in the construction industry. These programs and initiatives highlight opportunities and needs throughout the industry and include career tracks such as an electrician, safety technician, project manager, or civil engineer.

The “Construction Career Collaborative” – “C3” in the Houston, Texas area was developed to enhance career opportunities in the commercial construction industry with a focus on skills and safety training to develop and maintain a qualified workforce. The program involves high schools, community and junior colleges, and trade associations to ensure required training for successful employment in the respective field now and in the future.

In Virginia, the “Build Your Future Virginia” site was launched with the assistance of the AGC chapter, contractors and other industry associations to recruit, promote, and educate the public on career opportunities within the construction industry. The site provides a training directory to locate local training centers that are available around the state in the various craft professions and current information about labor demand by trade and location.

With continued demand for infrastructure replacement nationwide, we clearly need a coordinated set of industry initiatives which include both public and private sector stakeholders. The areas outlined above — training, education, and technology applications — are all strategies that can provide positive and measurable results. Our investment in workforce training will require a long-term commitment, yet working together, we can create highly skilled teams of construction professionals.

Don Neff is the President of LJP Construction Services. For more than twenty-five years, Irvine, CA-headquartered LJP Construction Services has been at the forefront of the quality assurance movement on behalf of builder and insurance clients, raising the bar and pushing the limits of quality control.

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