Is the construction industry facing a skilled labor cliff?
Owners must demand robust workforce development efforts
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.
- 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
- Cost – The presence of a labor shortage could cause projects to realize cost escalation over 17 percent depending on the severity of the shortage
- Schedule – The presence of a labor shortage could cause projects to experience schedule delays over 22 percent depending on the severity of the shortage
About the Authors
Paul Goodrum is a Professor in Construction Engineering and Management at University of Colorado at Boulder.
Nicholas R. Petry is a Professor in Construction Engineering & Management at the University of Colorado.
This article was originally published in Breaking Ground: The NCCER Blog. This content has been republished with the permission of NCCER and the publisher.