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Contractors: Focus on the Skills Gap, Not the People Shortage, for Immediate Impact

06/25/2024 Article

This article was originally published by NCCER via ENR and Construction Dive.

 

As the construction industry navigates through a labor shortage, the most important asset for contractors is, and will continue to be, their people.

Highly capable craft professionals are pivotal to success during a time when they are increasingly difficult to find. The issue is not just daunting, it is circular. It has the entire industry seeking solutions. And while the shortage is an industry-level issue, the difficulty it creates is experienced most directly by individual contractors — placing the need for immediate solutions squarely in their court.

It may be an unfamiliar challenge to many, so it’s worth examining where individual companies can make a difference.

 

Labor Shortage Components

As they hire, companies experience the labor shortage by getting fewer job applicants overall and more applicants who lack the necessary skills for the job. This demonstrates two distinct components of the labor shortage: 1) an actual people shortage, and 2) a shortage of people with the right skills — or a skills gap. This distinction is important because it clarifies specific points of action and impact.

The people shortage is driven by macro trends like waning interest in joining the construction industry and, as baby boomers retire, fewer people in the workforce across all industries. While reversing certain trends is possible, individual companies are unlikely to impact trends quickly enough to address current needs. Instead, contractors must address the people shortage by doing more with fewer people — which means developing current teams for peak performance.

Addressing the skills gap among applicants is directly actionable by individual companies through effective onboarding and training for new hires; however, this will require a leap of faith for some because it isn’t yet a universal practice. Increasing interest in our industry may take years. Hiring people who already have interest but lack skills — and committing to training them — is where companies can have an immediate impact.

 

Challenges

Contractors can have a significant impact on their bottom line by upskilling their current teams and training new hires who lack necessary skills, though this comes with very real challenges. Most contractors are not experts in craft training, nor do they have adequate in-house training resources. Further, finding the time to train isn’t easy, so it can become a trade-off with current job productivity.

Ultimately the answer lies in flexible training solutions that help contractors of all sizes meet these talent development challenges head-on.

 

Craft Training Models: Where Does Online, Self-Paced Training Fit?

Craft training has a long history of success in traditional models that will continue as mainstays in producing highly skilled craft professionals for years to come. Concurrently, online, mobile-friendly solutions will play an important role in helping contractors deal with the realities created by a labor shortage that promises to continue for some time.

 

Traditional Models

The registered apprenticeship model is an approach that has been proven over many years. The success — and ultimate payoff — of this traditional, hands-on training is discussed in articles and related research by NCCER, including these recent releases: “Compelling Case for Construction Craft Training: The Return on Investment Is Real,” “Worley – Winning Work by Investing in its People,” and “Career Pathways Earnings Data Comparison.” In fact, NCCER’s modular-based training materials were specifically designed to effectively work with registered apprenticeships.

Hybrid models make up the majority of formal construction education training. These approaches vary greatly in delivery and often combine informal company training with outside instruction from community colleges, high schools, or other providers.

 

Online Training

There are many attractive features and characteristics of online training, especially amid current workforce and skills challenges. It’s a viable model for companies and learners when done effectively, and it will play an increasing role in the development of craft professionals.

Through an online learning model, companies can access the resources they need to implement a flexible training program without the need for a formal training department.  This enables workers to stay on jobsites, learn at their own pace and study when it is convenient for them, which helps keep jobs and projects on schedule. Easily accessible and customizable, an online training approach helps learners apply new skills immediately. Contractors can successfully onboard or upskill anyone at any time.

Online craft training can be a favorable option for contractors, but it requires specific characteristics that protect the integrity of the contractor and the industry. DIY video training via YouTube is not likely to be an effective approach, for example. Even some formal online platforms today lack proven curricula and quality assessment, settling instead for course completion certificates. Among the more important features of online training are the quality and track record of the training material, knowledge verification using valid assessments, and performance and/or experience verification.

Investing in a mobile-friendly, learn-then-do online training model is a practical solution for contractors of all sizes to alleviate the pressure of the skills gap and to enhance the effectiveness of their craft professionals. Implementing a program that is trusted and compliant with industry standards for knowledge and performance verification will be an essential consideration to ensure teams have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to perform quality work and ultimately, improve project outcomes.

 

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