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For Construction Success in a Tight Labor Market, Think Big

Workers looking down at a crane from a building under construction

Robust growth in the construction industry over the past half-decade was capped off by a record-setting 2016 that saw U.S. spending reach nearly $1.2 trillion — a 4.5 percent increase over 2015, according to a report by JLL Research.

The outlook for 2017 is even more bullish, according to Wells Fargo’s Construction Industry Forecast 2017, “with significant talk in all areas of the need for increased infrastructure spending. The industry made progress in 2016 with the passage of the long-term highway funding bill and the momentum felt by executives, so 2017 could prove to be the year in which all participants in the industry prosper.”

Residential construction will also see growth in 2017, buoyed by a predicted 12 percent uptick in single-family home units, notes Dodge Data & Analytics.

The upshot? Opportunities for pursuing and winning new business are nearly unlimited. However, for many companies, the ongoing labor shortage in skilled trades could be an obstacle.

Demand for work, demand for workers

Nearly 70 percent of construction firms report they are having a hard time filling hourly craft positions that represent the bulk of the construction workforce, according to a 2016 survey by the Associated General Contractors of America. Firms in certain geographic areas, like the Midwest (77 percent) and South (74 percent), report having even more difficulty.

An article in The Cornerstone, a construction publication for workforce development professionals, notes that the staffing shortage is intensifying as other industries compete for the same limited pool of craft professionals and urges the industry to invest in workforce development and become an industry of choice. Whether that will happen via additional apprenticeships, vocational schools and training programs is unknown, and it won’t happen overnight.

So, in order to take advantage of this major opportunity for your company to expand, you need to overcome the labor hurdle in the near-term.

Cast a wider net

Even in major metropolitan markets, it can be difficult to find the volume of workers with the right skill sets you need to complete large, highest-revenue projects. Flexibility points toward a scalable workforce. Even if the talent does exist, it might not exist in the same location as the work. Broadening the geographic range of your talent search, with the option of bringing in out-of-town workers to get your local work completed, is far more likely to surface up the best candidates to choose from.

Before you dismiss the option out of hand, know that other companies are already doing it; a CareerBuilder search for full-time traveling construction jobs in April returned more than 2,500 listings placed by a variety of builders and other companies. So at least ask the question — can you build travel into your pricing? Using local labor is always the first choice, but what if the alternative is to not complete the project on time or on budget? It could be worth it from an ROI standpoint, especially for high-demand skill sets.

Looking outside your geographic area for talent may seem like a stretch, but there are resources to support the process. A recruiting firm that has a deep pipeline of candidates and a national network of local offices can help ensure that you have access to the broadest range of locations, candidates and skill sets.

Once you’ve gone outside your market to pursue the best talent resources, you’ve also opened the door to expanding the geographic nature of the projects your business can profitably pursue. To put it another way, when the accessibility of talent is less of an issue, you’re free to compete for work in a variety of other markets and position yourself for future work as well.

Pursue flexible options with experience levels

Although you may specifically be looking for scarce, highly experienced talent like master craftsmen, consider whether you can be flexible with the composition of your team’s staffing. Can you build a team that incorporates more journeymen, apprentices or helpers? In addition to addressing your current staffing need, you’ll be providing crucial experience to build your own team of future experts.

You may not have the time to personally handle the process of sourcing, interviewing and hiring a work team of diverse expertise and skill sets to complete the projects you’re working on. Consider using external resources that find not only individual candidates, but also have experience in assembling teams of all configurations — all in the most cost-effective way.

Tackling the talent shortage is all about creative solutions. Seeking non-local talent and being flexible with the composition of your workforce can allow you to secure and fulfill new business, as well as widening your company footprint and helping you compete for business in new regions. The opportunity is there now, so you want to make sure your company is ready to take full advantage.

Want to learn more? Contact Aerotek now.

Article by Ed Gruss, Aerotek’s director of Divisional Operations