iStock_000004639158LargeBy Paul Goodrum, Nicholas R. Petry Professor in Construction Engineering & Management at the University of Colorado After decades of facing periodic workforce challenges, many of today’s construction industry leaders seem to have become habituated to the idea of a looming skilled workforce cliff. With increasing concerns that imminent severe labor shortages could impact many projects—even as the industry continues its recovery from an economic downturn—the industry response is once again likely to be, “We’ll find the workers we need,” or “No shortage will exist if we pay enough.” While true to some extent, these statements are short-sighted and do not tell the whole story. The Construction Industry Institute (CII) chartered Research Team 318 to determine whether the industry is in fact now facing a skilled labor cliff, and found that such shortages are expected in the southwestern and southeastern U.S. among welders, pipefitters and electricians. However, the more pressing issues are the long-term structural changes in the construction craft workforce, including the following:
  • At a time when the wage gap between construction craft labor and all other industries has shrunk, construction craft workers are increasingly more motivated by the prospect of higher wages rather than job satisfaction.
  • The average age of the construction craft workforce is increasing three times faster than the average age of workers in all other U.S. industries.
  • Lack of educational attainment among the Hispanic workforce serves as a barrier to Hispanic workers moving into the higher-skilled trades that are more in demand, such as welding, pipefitting and electrical.
  • The decline in career and technical education among high schools across the country and the emphasis on four-year degrees as a path to career success have contributed to the shortage of experienced high-skilled workers.
The research team discovered empirical project-based evidence that workforce shortages are directly correlated with at least three key elements of project execution:
  1. Safety – A labor shortage could cause OHSA TRIR rates on projects ranging from 0.26 to 0.94, depending on the severity of the shortage
  2. Cost – The presence of a labor shortage could cause projects to realize cost escalation over 17 percent depending on the severity of the shortage
  3. Schedule – The presence of a labor shortage could cause projects to experience schedule delays over 22 percent depending on the severity of the shortage
The skilled labor market for the construction industry has a serious structural problem, and the longer industry leaders erroneously assume that the market will take care of itself, the more severe the problem will become. All industry stakeholders must contribute to the solution. As the ultimate buyers of construction services, owners must demand robust workforce development efforts to level the playing field for labor providers. Labor providers must invest in developing a skilled workforce pipeline to ensure a sufficient numbers of workers when and where they are needed. By diligently planning for their workforce needs earlier in the project planning process, all stakeholders can muster greater capacity to influence their projects’ labor components and more effectively manage labor risk.

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About NCCER

NCCER develops standardized construction and maintenance curricula and assessments with portable credentials. These credentials are tracked through NCCER’s National Registry which allows organizations and companies to track the qualifications of their craft professionals and/or check the qualifications of possible new hires. The National Registry also assists craft professionals by maintaining their records in a secure database.