Solving the labor shortage in the construction industry requires change

Addressing scarcity and attracting and retaining People Y, Z and beyond will require breaking with tradition: traditional ways, workplaces and approaches to building. We need to create new pathways to the profession to strengthen and diversify the pipeline.

While the pandemic has given us insight into the impact of a labor shortage in the construction industry, a much more serious shortage is underway. According to a February analysis from Associated Builders and Contractors, the industry will need “nearly 650,000 additional workers on top of the normal rate of hiring in 2022 to meet labor demand.” And almost half a million more will be needed in 2023.

The next generation of talent will need to be convinced that this is a profession that offers opportunities to thrive, and those opportunities need to be accessible and inclusive for everyone. Gone are the recognized limited pathways, daunting hierarchies and rigid workplace norms. Today’s workforce expects diverse and collaborative workplaces, increased worker flexibility and recognition, respect, and a seat at the decision-making table. We need to illustrate opportunities for professional development and growth.

The net result must also evolve beyond the profit margin and encompass the societal impact.

Young talents are looking for “The Big Why?” While revenue is important, how profits are made matters just as much. Companies must demonstrate their commitment to social impact. For Gilbane Building, this means building more than buildings. It means being dedicated to environmental sustainability, investing in our people, creating economic opportunity and forging meaningful relationships one hospital, school and community project at a time.

To build this network and move the good work forward, we need to bring people into the field. At all levels, the industry needs to think more about creating pipelines for a diverse workforce. Gilbane recently announced its commitment to generating $4 billion in awards over five years for certified minority and women-owned, disadvantaged, LGBTBE and veteran businesses.

We also need to engage the interest of the burgeoning workforce. Programs that introduce K-12 construction careers are a good start, and there are plenty of them. For example, the ACE mentorship program provides valuable experiential learning and clearer pathways to the profession. Since Gilbane began working with the Chicago Chapter of ACE in 2000, we’ve engaged more than 3,500 students from 36 Chicago public schools in hands-on workplace experience, with more than 90% of groups historically underrepresented. It’s a good start, but we need more.

We need to provide second-chance entry points for people considering a career change and provide the support needed to succeed.

I speak from experience. After dropping out of college and without much direction, a door of opportunity opened for me with Gilbane. It didn’t take me long to see a possible future. I went back to school and graduated in the evening while working during the day. Many of my classmates struggled to juggle school, work, bills, and family. We need to make it easier for future talent coming from non-traditional paths – in the trades and on the business side – to persist.

Importantly, each journey should be valued and individuals celebrated for their distinct perspectives. For many years, I didn’t see my “non-traditional” path to industry leadership as an asset. While my colleagues were discussing their most anticipated paths to the profession, I would avoid telling my story. I felt it was something to hide.

Today, I know that my experience is a strength. I also know that the key to successful teams and workplaces is to bring together individuals who offer diversity in all dimensions: race, gender, ethnicity, culture and origin. Equally vital is creating space for experiences and perspectives to be shared, respected and valued.

And while it may seem obvious, building truly diverse teams requires intention. We tend to be attracted to people like us, with shared experiences and ideas. Bringing together alternative viewpoints and perspectives can be difficult, but it’s how we develop the best solutions, drive innovation, and drive results far beyond what we previously imagined.

The construction industry excels at demolishing structures in order to rebuild them. It’s time for the industry to end some of the traditional approaches, practices and standards that will only limit growth. Let’s get comfortable with the discomfort. The future demands it.

Karrie Kratz is a vice president of Gilbane Building based in Chicago.

About Keith Tatum

Check Also

Biden’s climate goals could survive this election

Voters line up to vote in Fort Worth, Texas. | Ron Jenkins/Getty Images President Joe …