The U.S. construction industry has been riddled with recruitment struggles that grow more severe each year. In fact, a recent study found an annual need for approximately 723,000 new construction workers—and yet 88% of contractors are experiencing moderate-to-high difficulty finding skilled talent.
The construction skills gap is a complex issue to resolve. However, industry leaders can step up to collaboratively combat long-term issues, while taking immediate actions to alleviate their in-house skilled trade shortages. We’ll explore the core drivers of the skills gap and opportunities to overcome the critical construction industry issue.
Why Is There a Skill Shortage in the Construction Industry?
The lack of skilled workers in the U.S. construction industry can largely be attributed to two core factors: the rapidly growing market and the simultaneously declining interest in skilled trades.
On the one hand, demand for construction is booming. Between January 2022 and April 2023, U.S. construction spending has nearly quadrupled in the computer, electronics, and electrical manufacturing industry alone. Texas construction firms have seen an especially impressive demand—the state leads national spending on commercial construction, now a $362 billion market, by a landslide.
On the other hand, droves of workers are quitting and retiring from construction—and the industry isn’t attracting new (and young) candidates fast enough. In February 2023, construction job openings rose by 129,000 despite a significant decrease in hiring. In coming years, the rising rate of retirements will continue widening the skills gap—25% of construction workers are now over 55.
Remediating the worker shortage will require years of collective and individual effort, and that’s why it’s critical for construction firms to act now.
What Will It Take to Close the Construction Skills Gap?
Too-high demand can be a good problem to have. However, if the labor shortage in construction continues to grow, firms will struggle to meet client expectations, and construction delays could cause a domino effect of slowed growth in other industries.
Closing the construction skills gap will require dedicated efforts from industry leaders, who need to address the deeply engrained issues at the heart of the shortage. Here’s what needs to be done.
Changing the Industry’s Reputation
One of the biggest recruitment barriers today is the poor reputation of the construction industry among young people. A Stanley Black & Decker survey found the majority of high school students view construction as physically demanding, dirty, and dangerous—largely due to lack of exposure to skilled-trade careers.
Firms can help change the industry’s reputation by finding more opportunities to engage with teenagers and young adults as they make key career decisions. This can involve workshops at local schools, apprenticeship programs, and more.
Develop Clear Career Pathways
While attracting young workers can funnel new recruits into the construction workforce, there will be a critical need for experienced candidates before they rise through the ranks. Construction laborers—who are entry-level workers fresh in the game—now make up 40% of new hires, whereas workers with licensed skills are becoming harder to find.
Building career pathways will be key to developing much-needed, highly skilled talent. Firms must be transparent about advancement opportunities and the requirements for roles at every level, and support both entry-level and mid-career workers in their growth.
Adopt Cutting-Edge Technologies
Motivating current and potential workers will be key to closing the construction skills gap, but the skilled trade shortage is growing so fast that it won’t be enough. Construction firms must continually adopt technologies that improve efficiency, accelerate projects, and lessen the impact of unfilled positions, from 3D printing and 4D simulations to robotics and drones.
Adopting new tools could also help attract the 23% of young people who believe the construction industry is technologically behind.
5 Ways to Overcome the Construction Skills Gap Today
Even with active efforts to resolve the deep-seated issues behind the construction labor shortage, a severe skills gap is almost certain to persist for years to come. However, your firm can take immediate steps to secure construction talent and lessen the impact of this industry-wide challenge. Implement these five strategies to instantly stand out to skilled workers and grow your workforce today.
Support Continuing Education for Employees
Mastering retention—and preventing a worsening shortage of workers—starts with supporting continuing education opportunities for employees. By providing opportunities for job growth, from stipends for certification programs to onsite workshops, you can show construction workers you’re invested in their long-term success. This will help employees recognize the wealth of opportunities within your company and grow into essential mid-level and senior positions, where shortages are most prevalent.
Offer Sign-Up Bonuses
A simple way to attract new workers is by offering sign-up bonuses that meet or exceed offerings in your area. While you’ll still need to provide competitive compensation to pique the interest of construction talent, a good sign-up bonus can seal the deal when you extend an offer. This shiny incentive is best leveraged alongside a minimum employment term, which can help you simultaneously boost retention.
Leverage Your Network
You don’t have to do all the work to find quality talent in construction. When you leverage your network—proactively asking for employee testimonials and referrals—you can stand out to potential workers, who may look for social proof from their peers. Offering an incentive, like a gift card or cash reward, for successful referrals is an excellent way to motivate your current team members (and other connections) to promote your business on your behalf.
Embrace Safety as a Core Value
While your company can’t change an entire industry’s reputation, you can transform your employer brand. In the construction industry, destination employers are increasingly embracing safety as a core value and developing comprehensive safety programs to prevent injury and illness.
Implement and promote initiatives like regular safety training, non-required PPE provisions, hazard reporting programs, safety-related technology investments, and beyond to impress potential workers.
Partner with a Construction Staffing Agency
Construction recruiting doesn’t have to be a struggle. When you partner with a construction staffing agency, you can fully outsource your hiring challenges to experts in the field. Experienced skilled trade recruiters understand what it takes to accurately assess construction skills and help you find best-fit talent.
At Skinner, we already have connections with the skills and certifications you need, so your open positions won't stay unfilled for long. We even take care of the logistics—from payroll to benefits—on your behalf, giving you more time to focus on your construction projects and business growth.