STUDY: 80 Percent of Construction Firms Struggle to Find Workers

The labor shortage in the construction industry is already a major problem and is poised to be a catastrophe in the future. But how much is it actually affecting American companies?

construction workers working on a dusty field (abstract)Shutterstock/ saranya33

According to a recent study conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America and Autodesk, 80 percent of the 1,935 U.S.-based construction firms they surveyed are having a hard time filling hourly positions. Those same firms are finding it significantly easier to find candidates for salaried jobs, with only 57 percent saying they are having a hard time filling those positions.

The study also asked which specific trades these companies are struggling to find workers for. Concrete workers topped the list, with 69 percent of firms saying they had more trouble finding candidates than they did a year ago, and just 8 percent saying they had no difficulty hiring concrete workers. Pipelayers, carpenters, cement masons and heavy-equipment operators rounded out the top five most hard-to-find positions. Painters were on the opposite end of that spectrum, with only 49 percent of survey responders having trouble finding qualified painters.

What can be done to increase the construction labor pool?

As the skilled labor pool in the U.S. construction industry continues to shrink, construction companies are making efforts to provide things like paid training opportunities and better benefits in order to entice candidates to work for them. 66 percent of the companies surveyed by the AGC said that they have increased base pay rates for hourly positions, 29 percent have provided incentives and bonuses, and 25 percent increased or improved employee benefits.

Even with these measures taken to improve the quality of work, the surveyed construction firms are not very hopeful about the future of hiring workers to fill hourly positions. A combined 73 percent of them said that it will either become harder to hire or continue to be hard to hire hourly workers over the course of the next year.

AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr is slightly more optimistic.

“Workforce shortages remain one of the single most significant threats to the construction industry,” said Sandherr. “However, construction labor shortages are a challenge that can be fixed, and this association will continue to do everything in its power to make sure that happens.”

Aside from simply paying workers more money, there are a few other ways construction companies can attract candidates. Firms can seek out and even implement career-building programs in local high schools as a way to get young adults in their area interested in careers in the trades. Nearly half of the survey respondents said that they have also initiated or increased in-house training programs, educating and training candidates on the job instead of simply turning them away if they do not initially have the required skills. 8 percent have even begun using augmented reality training devices to give trainees more of a “real world” experience.

Should the federal government step in?

In an analysis and summary of the study, the AGC also called for the federal government to take steps towards resolving the construction workforce shortage. These steps include:

  • Allowing more immigrants to legally enter the country to work in construction
  • Allowing construction students to qualify for Pell Grants
  • Boosting investments in modern versions of Career and Technical Education programs

For more on the AGC and their relationship with the federal government, read this story from earlier this summer.