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Labor shortages call for creative solutions

meier-steffesThe construction industry still is recovering from the fallout of the recession, and it’s showing in labor shortages.

When the recession hit, many laborers were sidelined by the shortage of work. Not only did some of those skilled workers move to other jobs, but the pipeline of new talent was slowed as the perception of promising careers in certain trades dimmed.

Now that investment in construction is picking back up, contractors are finding it hard to find enough quality workers. According to a 2014 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction industry’s need for workers is set to grow twice as fast as the average for all other industries.

Employment of construction laborers is projected to grow 24 percent from 2012 to 2022. That means contractors could face a 1.6 million-worker shortage by 2022.

The shortages already are taking a toll. A National Association of Home Builders survey of contractors between June 2012 and March 2013 revealed that 46 percent of respondents had experienced delays in completing projects on time, and 15 percent had to turn down projects. More than half of the builders reported that labor shortages in the previous six months caused them to pay higher wages and more costly subcontract bids in order to secure jobs.

The industry needs to work on recruiting. Careers in construction provide people with a cost-effective alternative to college during a time when tuition is rising. Many laborers receive benefits and can be paid up to $40,000 annually immediately out of high school. They also are provided with a chance to experience hands-on work guided by skilled mentors.

So how can companies and people in the industry get the word out and attract workers? First, contractors can use this time as an opportunity to reach out to their communities. Set up job fairs, information sessions and events that inform the public about the construction industry and all that it has to offer.

Ask employees to volunteer as speakers about their positive experiences. Reach out to the youth community. Host events that give them the chance to get excited about construction. Encourage job-shadowing for high school and trade school students.

Creating positive experiences and excitement around construction jobs can help re-invigorate the talent pipeline.

Companies also need to spread the word about apprenticeships and training programs. The Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin and the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin provide career training, job-shadowing and educational events that promote the construction industry. Those associations also provide on their websites lists of educational institutions that offer construction programs and scholarships.

And companies should encourage employees to talk to their families and friends about potential construction careers. Ask around for employee recommendations.

When all else fails and the face-to-face recruiting comes up short, get creative and use technology. Notify the public of the labor shortage through company websites. Advertise job openings on social media and career networking websites such as LinkedIn. Ask younger workers to help identify ways in which they are effectively targeted by modern media.

Finding talent is certainly a better problem to have than finding work. But construction companies need to be proactive in developing ways to reach people who have the interest, drive and motivation to work in this field. Those who are successful in the face of this challenge will be poised to grab hold of the increasing opportunities in the marketplace.

Eric Meier is a shareholder at Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek SC and a co-leader of the Construction Services Team. Bailey Steffes is a second-year student at the University of Wisconsin Law School and a legal intern at Tri-North Builders Inc.

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