If you haven’t felt its effects already, you’ve at the very least heard about it: The Skills Gap. No, it’s not a store at the mall wedged between Foot Locker and Sbarro where you go to learn how to weld. The skills gap is a very unfortunate reality whereas your business has specialized work that needs to be done, but not enough people with the skills to do it. The problem is that while the construction industry is growing (McGraw Hill projects that non-residential construction will increase 73% in the coming year over 2011), fewer people are getting into the trade. With an estimated 19% of the construction workforce set to retire in the next decade, the gap between your need for workers and the available pool is only going to increase. But it’s not an inevitable fate. There are things your construction business can do – along with the rest of the construction industry – to help ease the skills gap and ensure you’ve got an effective workforce for the years to come.
Retaining older workers is actually the most important step in addressing the skills gap. While you may be inclined to focus on finding new, young talent to address essential skills, keeping your older workers is crucial for two reasons: First because they still have the best expertise in the field. Second, because they can stay on and mentor younger workers. But how do you keep older workers engaged and employed? Especially with so many leaving the industry during the downturn of the late-2000s, retaining or re-attracting experienced workers has become especially challenging. Like with any industry, the bar for what you must offer has been raised. Offer re-training programs for those who have left. And for those still in the construction industry, offer more flexible work schedules and better benefits. Also, help your older workers plan for retirement with things like 401Ks and financial planning. This will have them envisioning ending their careers with your company, and build loyalty and longevity among your more-experienced employees. Will this raise the cost of doing business? Of course, it will, but in a skills-gap situation, you have few other options. And with advanced technologies like 3D printing making other aspects of construction cheaper, you may look at it as a simple shifting of resources. And of course, if a quick influx of cash is needed BFS Capital is always there for you.
The most commonly-cited solution to the skills gap is reaching out to schools and educating younger people on careers in construction. That same McGraw Hill Study found that 62% of those in trades thought their trade did not appeal to the younger generation, and 56% found the education of the younger generation to be inadequate. As part of your company’s social responsibility, work with others in your industry to change the perception of careers in construction. Like it or not, many students in middle and high school are dead set on going to college, and are unaware of the earning potential in trades. Creating programs like teen-aged apprenticeships, high school outreach programs, and bring your child to work days can expose the younger generation to the world of trades and construction, hopefully steering them towards careers in industries with skill gaps. You may even offer educational assistance to students interested in attending trade schools. Though it won’t guarantee they come to work for you, it is smart public policy and definitely gets you a leg up when it comes to recruiting.
Another issue forcing the skills gap is experienced trade workers moving over to technical or management fields as they progress in their careers. While some may see this as a promotion or career advancement, it puts a serious strain on the positions they left behind. There is no shortage of talent when it comes to tech and management fields, and often you can find temporary workers to do this on a by-project basis. Instead of moving your more-experienced workers into those roles, offer them the same compensation they’d receive if they did move, but keep them working in their trades. This way you still have their skills set, they make more money, and you have someone there to instruct younger workers. The skills gap may not have directly caused you to lose business yet, but it’s a creeping concern you must be proactive about. By retaining your aging workforce and educating younger workers about trades and construction, you’ll not only help your business but the construction industry as a whole. And, hopefully, have skilled, loyal workers on your construction business’s payroll for the foreseeable future.