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How to Adapt to the Skilled Labor Shortage in Construction

| 27.01.2021

If you’re struggling to find qualified, skilled workers to fill open positions on your job sites, you’re not alone. The construction labor shortage has been a problem for over a decade, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put even more pressure on an already understaffed workforce.

According to the 2020 Construction Outlook Survey by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), 81% of construction firms have trouble filling both salaried and hourly craft positions, and 72% anticipate labor shortages to be the biggest hurdle in the next year.

The result is an overstretched skilled workforce, project delays, and increased costs. Some companies are unable to accept new projects that will move their businesses forward, because the labor simply isn’t available to handle them.

But don’t panic—the data is just one part of the story. 

Understanding the reasons behind the labor shortage, and getting creative with how you address it, can help you accomplish more with a smaller workforce—without sacrificing quality or your bottom line.

The state of the skilled labor shortage

According to the December survey for the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, cost and availability of labor was the number one problem faced by builders in 2019, and was expected to keep the top spot in 2020. 

It’s no secret that the Great Recession of 2008 had a profound impact on construction. Though the industry has recovered since, many skilled workers left the workforce when the housing market bottomed out in 2009-2011 and didn’t return. Others are simply reaching the age of retirement, and there’s a deficit of young skilled workers ready to take their place. Construction firms compete with other rising industries like healthcare, technology and engineering for younger workers.

The full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic remains to be seen, but there’s already a noticeable ripple effect on safety protocols, employee health and supply chains. 

In short, the landscape of the construction industry is changing, Despite rising builder and consumer confidence and a recovering job market, it’s difficult to find qualified workers for skilled positions in construction.

Demand for building activity is expected to continue to grow, though the growth rate will be limited by available skilled labor unless contractors make big changes to adapt. 

The state of civil construction with buildwitt

Measuring the impact

The 2020 AGC survey highlights the most notable effects of the skilled labor shortage in construction:

  • 57% cite the skilled labor shortage as the biggest challenge to worker health and safety
  • 44% of companies have seen higher project costs
  • 40% say that projects are taking longer than anticipated

Fatalities increased by 5% in 2019, bringing them to their highest level since 2007. Safety is a top concern for many companies, and for good reason; 34.9% of new workers are injured during their first year on the job.

Another consequence of the skilled labor shortage is decreased quality and productivity. An inexperienced project manager can create costly delays and a notable decrease in quality. In an already competitive marketplace, most contractors simply can’t afford to put inexperienced workers in vacant positions.

How cutting-edge technology can help you conquer the labor shortage

The simplest—and fastest—way to address the skilled labor shortage in construction is to make the most of the workforce you have. The right construction software, combined with an automated drone surveying workflow, can have a dramatic impact on your day-to-day efficiency. 

Justin Russell, Head Surveyor at Fiore

Colorado-based Fiore’s Head of Survey, Justin Russell, went from topo-ing one site a day to as many as six, simply by incorporating drone surveying technology into his regular workflow. Check out Part 1 of our video series on how Fiore uses drone technology.

The right construction software streamlines efficiency on your worksites by:

  • Improving communication: Workers spend less time waiting on up-to-date survey results or material quantities, and instead self-serve to solve problems as (or before) they happen. Learn more.
  • Eliminating misallocation and unnecessary downtime: Teams no longer waste valuable time on worksites waiting for a necessary piece of equipment or for another team to finish before they can begin. Learn more.
  • Increasing accuracy: Drones are capable of reaching the same level of accuracy as a base and rover, in far less time. Anyone with a drone pilot license can fly them to complete a survey as often as necessary, giving your team an up-to-date—and accurate—picture of your worksite. Learn more.
  • Keeping workers safe: With drones, there’s no need to send workers out in the field to navigate dangerous terrain and heavy equipment. Learn more.
  • Creating a tech-savvy culture: Construction has famously trailed behind most industries when it comes to adopting new technology. With a company that’s on the leading edge, you’ll attract a younger generation of workers, who adapt easily to new technology and appreciate its benefits—another key to addressing the skilled labor shortage in construction. Learn more.

In a nutshell

Investing in new technology to help your current workforce increase collaboration, improve communication, and streamline efficiencies isn’t just a good idea; it’s a necessity. According to the 2020 AGC survey, 32% of contractors are investing in cutting-edge tech like construction software and drone surveying workflows to optimize labor. 

If your worksites are behind schedule and over budget due to a reduced workforce, how will you compete with companies who are using the latest tech to streamline their processes (and lower their bids)?

Construction software creates a centralized, easily accessible source of truth available to all who need it. Communication becomes faster and easier, both internally and with clients. With less on their plates, surveyors, foremen, project managers, and supervisors can accomplish more in less time.

Technology also helps eliminate the pesky element of human error, which is inevitable with manual workflows and can result in cost overrun very quickly.

The question isn’t whether you can afford to invest in new technology this year. It’s whether you can afford not to.

Ready to roll out cutting-edge tech on your worksites? Get a demo now.

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