The Positive Side of the Workforce Shortage: 5 Trends to Uncover Opportunity

Columbus Chamber
The Columbus Chamber provides connections, resources and solutions that help small businesses and Fortune 500 enterprises grow Central Ohio's economy.

By Jim Fisher – VP of Planning and Research, Hart

With a strong economy comes opportunity. With opportunity comes prosperity. Unfortunately, in the construction industry the opportunity is there, but there are few who have the ability to take advantage of it. Of course, I am speaking about the workforce shortage.

Nearly two-thirds (61%) of all U.S. contractors report difficulty finding skilled workers.*

We hear the results of the workforce shortage in the news almost every day. Reports cite the lack of skilled trade workers and the problems that come with it. Problems from the workforce shortage include:

  • Difficulty getting a contractor to answer the phone or bid on a job
  • Extraordinarily long start and completion times
  • Higher overall cost for people and materials
  • Lack of quality in the work

At Hart, we work with and for many companies in or associated with the construction industry. Over the past couple of years, we’ve kept our finger on the pulse of the industry, watching the trends that drive the headlines. While we all know and hear about the negative side of the workforce shortage, at Hart, we looked at the situation a little differently.

Our goal: Look past the bad news on the workforce shortage and observe what is fundamentally changing because of it. In other words, we asked ourselves not what’s behind the shortage, but what’s beyond the shortage. How will not having enough workers now affect the industry tomorrow? The trends we discovered turned out to be insights that will help the construction industry gain traction, first by attracting a whole new audience to the trade, and second, by changing how young adults see their career potential for years to come.

We identified five trends to watch for the future.

1. The news of the workforce shortage is starting new conversations.

Just a few short years ago, there was a remote chance that a high school senior might consider a life in the trades. Today, thanks to continuing reports on the shortage of skilled workers, the willingness to have this conversation is growing. For years, the prevailing belief driving career choice has been that successful students only go to college. Today, that mindset is shifting. Students, guidance counselors and parents are rethinking career paths, which may or may not include a four-year college education.

“Whether we meant to or not, we’ve created a system that trains 100% of its students for college, when only a percentage of these kids will graduate. A tremendous number of students are not being served by the system.”–President, Associated General Contractors

2. College debt is causing many to rethink their future.

In 2018, 69% of college students took out student loans and they graduated with an average debt of $29,800. At the same time, the increasing cost of college has made it more difficult for parents to pay for it, leaving high school seniors and parents with second thoughts about a four-year degree. This trend is growing and already impacting the workforce shortage.

3. Stereotypes of a life in construction are not in line with today’s reality.

No doubt, life in the trades can be hard work. But the growing use of new technologies is changing the way young adults feel about a career in construction. Artificial intelligence and virtual reality are already changing the way we design and build. Today’s tools also are changing; workers use wearables to help guide the process and drones to survey land and building structures. Technology is changing the world in many ways, and those who enter the trades now may carry a virtual reality headset and a device to guide the work they do with a hammer.

4. Millennials seek validation.

As we know, today’s workforce is looking for validation and ways they can contribute right away. The status quo is no longer acceptable for today’s generation. Being a cog in a large organization is not a job millennials are looking for. What they find appealing is the nobility of creating and building something with their own hands. The sense of pride and personal accomplishment not found in many white-collar jobs. Laborers of the past were seen as craftsmen. Millennials are finding favor in the idea of being a creator instead of a worker.

5. In the end, an occupation in the trades offers the same opportunities.

Finally, the more young adults consider the trades, the more they discover that working in the trades is a career, not just a job. Benefits, vacation time, the opportunity to advance and a 401k – not to mention an income often as good as or better than most first jobs out of college – are enticing them to pursue work they find rewarding.

The workforce shortage is creating a lot of conversations. Perceptions of the trades are changing and new paths are being discovered. What does this mean for the trades? We recommend you embrace these trends and reposition yourself to better define who you are and what you offer. Become the alternative young adults are looking for, the smart choice for those looking for and hoping to find a career that matches who they are.

At Hart, we look at situations a little differently. And with unique methodologies, our research team helps clients see opportunities others have missed.

*Source: 2018 Dodge Data and Analytics

To discuss this topic and others that impact your brand, contact:

Sharon Stemen
sstemen@hartinc.com
Manager, New Business Development
419.893.9600 Ext. 161