It’s a topic we seem to be answering daily, “Where are all the workers?”. While it’s an issue that spans more than just the construction industry, unlike those other industries, we’ve been trying to answer this question for decades. For those answers, we have to look at more than just the last 18 months.
Staffing issues in the trades can be traced back to the 1970s when college students increased nearly 25% from 1969-1979. That phenomenon would again repeat itself in the 1990s when that decade saw an increase of over 15%. (Source: Nation Center for Education Statistics). The nation’s focus on higher education and white-collar professions set the trades up for inevitable challenges in finding skilled labor that continues to this day.
When the recession hit in 2007, the construction industry had enjoyed relatively stable, albeit still inadequate, aggregate workforce numbers in the mid-seven million. That number would then plummet to over 2 million workers by 2011. We had been steadily climbing back out since then, until, of course, April of 2020. The pandemic dealt a blow of over 1 million workers, and once again, we had to start rebuilding. As of September of this year, numbers were back to almost 7.5 million workers – Close to where they were in 2007. (Source: AGC/BLS)
So what does that mean for construction now? Well, the reality is, the issues we’re facing today with manpower are no worse than the issues we’ve been facing for the last decade. This problem won’t go away or get better because we’re not adding new workers to help with the increased construction activity we’ve seen in the last 10 years. There are also major shortages in the pipeline of skilled tradespeople that are on course to make major changes to our industry. However, in the short run, these problems are the same ones we have always faced on a daily basis. General Contractors need to take steps to keep their projects on track using proven methods and tactics for scheduling projects and keeping crews accountable. There are new delays out there we haven’t had to face before around material availability and outbreaks. Still, outside of that, we need to recognize that our workforce has always been hard to secure and probably always will be.
As our departed, and dearly missed, former head of Construction Operations, Brian McCarthy, was well-known for saying “This is a tough industry, and every day is a fight.”
Director of Preconstruction Services
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