The Looming Workforce Deficit: A Solution


constructionEveryone is talking about the workforce deficit, especially in the construction and engineering industries.  With the baby boomers finally retiring after rebuilding some of their retirement wealth, coupled with a shortage of workers who want to go into construction and engineering, and a dramatic increase in projects, it’s a perfect storm.

I understand the numbers.  If you want to be truly competitive and capture this future workforce, there are three things we must do:

1.  Redesign.  We must go back to the drawing board and take a hard look at how we design and build buildings and other projects.  We lament that there is not enough skilled labor instead of designing projects where you don’t need so much skilled labor.  We need to take a look at 3D copiers, prefabrication, modular fabrication,  and other high tech and cutting edge solutions.  This re-examination will very likely help to save the industry.  When I traveled to Sweden, I was surprised that they put almost all electrical wiring in trays, even higher voltage wiring.  I asked them why they didn’t run them in conduit.  They said it is not needed. Then, it finally dawned on me.  I asked myself who makes the codes to run everything in conduit?  The electricians.  I’m not blaming the electricians, and I understand their sense of self-preservation, but I think it’s time we took a look at project design and see if there is a better way.   If I were in a union, I would want to jump on board with this and start providing input into this process.  I would work to create a better design and then provide the labor to accomplish whatever was required.  Those guys in the field are pretty smart about  what works and what doesn’t.  Who better to come up with an entirely new way of working?

2.  Recruit.  We must start recruiting early and follow the examples of the ACE Mentoring Program (targeting high school kids) as well as other mentoring efforts.  Our website, http://www.change-u.com provides a mentor match, and we are offering this to a select number of colleges and universities to their students for FREE.  We must start contacting these future leaders of the industry, pass on our knowledge, nurture them, and instill our passion for the industry in them.  We must focus more on women and minorities and welcome them into this beautiful industry where we create something from nothing.  This needs to happen on all levels of education.  We must also work on improving our industry image, and we can do that by showing these young people our passion.

3.  Retain.  In order to retain these great people once they have committed themselves, we must offer them something more than a job.  We must provide the tools for their personal and professional development.  We must take an interest in them as human beings, care about them and help them through their life’s journey.   We must invest in them, train them, and be there for them.  If you were taken care of to that level, would you leave?  We must show them the bigger picture of the industry and how wonderful it is to help educate our kids, heal our sick, house us in beautiful spaces, allow us to travel from place to place, and provide us entertainment and escapes that helps us to relax from the burdens of this life.  What a noble profession that is!

So that’s it.  A simple formula:  Redesign, Recruit, and Retain.  If you want to continue this discussion, I would love to talk to you.

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2 Responses to The Looming Workforce Deficit: A Solution

  1. Very insightful article, Brent. I am a former practicing civil engineer (14 yrs) recently turned engineering educator with a real passion for recruitment and retention in construction. My research leans more toward the retention issues you mentioned. I hope your post sparks conversations that lead to action. These are indeed national issues that can be addressed, in part, with local solutions.

    • Hi Denise, Thanks for the comment. I am working toward a more collaborative and fun industry. I’m trying to talk to the ASCE about providing more people skills in the learning that matches the vision of the engineer of 2020. Let me know if I can do anything to help you. All the best, Brent

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