Addressing the Global Construction Labor Shortage: 3 Proven Steps to Success

navigating construction labor shortage

The labor shortage is an ongoing challenge, and it's an issue that's plaguing construction firms all around the world. 

Research by Autodesk and the AGC found that 85% of firms in the US have open positions, and 91% are struggling to fill at least some of these roles. In the UK, more than half (58%) of firms indicate that they are having trouble finding skilled workers. A similar issue can be seen in Asia. Take, for example, Japan, where 60% of construction firms are reportedly experiencing labor shortages. 

And here's the kicker: the labor shortage will only worsen unless we find a solution soon. Data cited by ADP indicates that around 41% of the current construction workforce will retire by 2031, which means the industry faces a potential talent vacuum that could further strain project timelines and costs.

So, how can firms navigate the construction workforce shortage? In this article, we dive into three key steps you can take to counter the labor gap. 

Hire diverse talent

Embracing diversity in recruitment not only broadens your talent pool, it also introduces fresh perspectives and skills. Diverse and inclusive hiring practices can be a game-changer, helping you tap into previously overlooked talent segments. In fact, three out of four respondents (77%)  to the 2023 AGC and Autodesk workforce survey agree that have a diverse team is key to boosting their business in the long run. 

Consider this data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics

  • 10.9% of people in construction are women
  • 6.7% of people in construction are Black or African American
  • 34.2% of people in construction are Hispanic or Latino

These figures show that while the construction sector has been taking steps to improve workforce diversity, there's still plenty of room for improvement. The recommendations below can help point you in the right direction.

Equip your recruitment teams skills for diverse hiring

Bringing in diverse talent starts with understanding the importance and benefits of a varied workforce. As such, ensure your HR personnel and hiring managers are well-versed in inclusive recruitment practices.

This can mean having them go through unconscious bias training, particularly in the context of hiring. See to it that they have the necessary skills to counteract unconscious biases that might influence hiring decisions.

Re-evaluate your recruitment practices

If you're struggling to attract diverse talent, take a closer look at the tools and practices you implement to get in front of candidates. Start with your job descriptions. Are you using neutral and inclusive language? If not, you may want to revise them. In some cases, you may also want to avoid jargon or language that might unintentionally appeal to one demographic more than another.

And when screening candidates, consider masking specific demographic details from applications to ensure that the initial screening process is based purely on qualifications.

Have a diverse interview panel

Assembling a diverse interview panel helps mitigate individual biases and ensure the team gets various perspectives on potential hires. It can also promote richer and multifaceted discussions about candidates, leading to more well-rounded hiring decisions.

In some cases, having diverse interviewers can serve as a powerful testament to your company's dedication to inclusivity, which helps you attract top-tier talent from all backgrounds. 

Just make sure you're avoiding tokenization by genuinely integrating diversity into your company culture. See that every individual's role is meaningful and valued, rather than simply for appearance's sake.

Offer inclusive benefits

Competitive pay is another way construction firms can compete for top and diverse talent. Many construction firms are already making progress on this front with 81% percent of firms reporting they have raised base pay rates for their workers during the past year, according to AGC and Autodesk.

Furthermore, 44% of construction firms are providing incentives and bonuses and a quarter of firms have also improved their benefits packages. Do you provide benefits that cater to a diverse workforce? Depending on your company, consider offering:

  • Parental leave
  • Flexible scheduling
  • Religious holidays
  • Employee resource groups for various demographics 
  • Mental health support and resources

Make safety the priority 

While safety must be a top priority in any industry, construction, in particular, demands an uncompromising commitment to safeguarding every worker on site. Jobsites are more dangerous than your average workspace, and failing to implement proper safety measures can have devastating consequences. 

According to the US Department of Labor, "4,764 workers died on the job in 2020 (3.4 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers)."

Due to the industry's inherent safety risks, candidates may be more discerning about the firms they work with. Applicants will naturally seek employers that prioritize their well-being. That's why it's crucial for firms to create more robust safety measures and actively demonstrate their commitment to safety.

Start at the top

The most effective initiatives are the ones backed by the company's leadership. In addition to allocating enough budget towards safety, senior management should visibly support and champion your safety programs. 

Conduct risk assessments regularly

The best way to deal with safety issues is to address them before they even become "issues" in the first place. To that end, conduct risk assessments regularly to identify potential hazards and vulnerabilities in your operations. From there, immediately implement measures to mitigate risks. 

This ensures you're taking a preventive (not reactive) approach that keeps your workforce safe and contributes to a more efficient construction process. 

Stay on top of inspections and compliance audits

Stay up-to-date with relevant safety regulations and standards to ensure full compliance. The smartest way to handle this is by doing regular audits and inspections. Remember to document any findings or observations during these inspections; if action steps are required, relay them to the right team and follow up to close the loop on any pending issues. 

Use technology to ensure the safety of your construction workforce

Utilize advanced technology and construction safety management software to enhance the well-being of your construction team. Consider incorporating tools like wearable devices and IoT monitoring systems that can alert you and your team of any potential hazards. 

Plus, you can leverage things like AI and robotics. These technologies sometimes have a bad rep because they can be seen as replacing workers, but this isn't necessarily the case. In fact, these innovations can augment human capabilities and enhance safety. According to the recent AGC and Autodesk Workforce Survey, 41% of construction firms say AI and robotics will improve the quality of construction jobs and make workers safer and more productive.

AI in construction, for example, can analyze complex data to predict potential safety risks and improve decision-making.

Meanwhile, teams can leverage robots to do the heavy lifting on site (literally), so workers won't have to risk strain or injury. Some firms also use robots to navigate tight spaces or hazardous environments—like roads with heavy traffic—to complete jobs safely and efficiently.

Leverage technology 

We've alluded to this earlier, but it's worth emphasizing: when navigating the labor shortage, technology is your friend. The right tools save you time and money, not to mention they make your team's life a whole lot easier. 

Consider the following. 

More efficient workflows

Digital construction tools streamline and automate various tasks, so projects can be completed more accurately and efficiently. These tools also reduce team stress, as they alleviate the burden of manual work and free up folks' time to focus on higher-level tasks. 

Not only are team members more effective, but they can also finish the job faster and get home to their families sooner. Win-win.

Better access to data

Cloud-based construction software makes data more accessible. Stakeholders get access to real time project info from anywhere, empowering them to stay informed and respond promptly to changes.

Most platforms also offer reporting and analytics capabilities. From historical performance data to financial info, these tools provide valuable insights that drive smarter decisions—and ultimately more favorable outcomes. 

Enhanced collaboration

Another benefit of cloud-based construction platforms? They enable real-time communication and collaboration among project stakeholders, improving coordination and reducing delays. 

These tools also pave the way for more flexible work setups. People can communicate and collaborate from anywhere, making it easier for teams to maintain productivity even when working remotely or across different locations.

Attract fresh talent 

Adopting cutting-edge technology makes you a more attractive employer, particularly to those new to the workforce. Three out of four construction firms agree that their use of cutting-edge technology helps them recruit talent into their firms, according to AGC and Autodesk.

According to a survey by Dell, 91% of Gen Z indicate that technology would play a role in shaping their career decisions. The research further unveiled that 33% of Gen Z workers prefer utilizing tablets and laptops. Moreover, this cohort is more open to technologies like AR, VR, and digital design and drawing tools.

All this to say that technology can enhance your firm in more ways than one. So, digitize your processes and don't stop innovating. 

In doing so, you'll not only encourage your team to stick around, you'll also put yourself in a better position to hire fresh talent.

But don’t forget to invest in training. AGC recently revealed that 91% of firms agree that their employees need to possess digital technology skills to be successful as firms adopt new labor-saving technologies. That’s why it’s essential to dedicate time and resources to ensuring your works can leverage cutting-edge technology to best improve the quality of their job and efficiency. 

Alleviate the construction labor shortage today

The labor shortage is very real, but so are the solutions to it. When implemented thoughtfully and effectively, the steps outlined above will help you navigate this challenge confidently and successfully.

Incorporating these strategies into your construction practices can position your firm as an appealing employer, so you can boost employee recruitment and retention—and ultimately thrive in the years ahead.

Alexa De La Parra Ramirez

Content & Communications Coordinator, Autodesk Construction Solutions