We lament the problems of the industry and wail and gnash our teeth. We wring our hands and worry about how we are going to solve these issues.
Our productivity has been relatively flat for the last 50 years.
We have a workforce development issue! Old people are retiring and young people aren’t coming into the industry. This is occurring at all levels from the trades to C suites.
We have a diversity issue! Many qualified women and minorities are choosing not to be in this industry.
We have a generational issue. These kids are lazy and they aren’t loyal.
Here is the sad fact. We have created every one of these problems! I will take each one of these and tell you why:
Flat and Low Productivity: As an industry, we are very slow to accept new ideas and new technologies. As a result, our productivity remains stagnant. There is very little innovation. The attitude is, “We’ve always done it that way.” I actually heard this remark after a young person put forth a new idea: “We tried that in the 1980s and it didn’t work.” A Chinese company recently completed a 30 story building in 15 days. Now I get that this is propaganda. I get that they have unlimited resources. There’s no telling what that building cost. But they did it! Can we take some of these concepts and start utilizing them without all of the political and ideological arguments? If we don’t, Chinese construction companies will likely be taking away our work in the not too distant future.
Workforce Development: When I was growing up, I chose to work construction every summer instead of at McDonald’s because the pay was so much better. Then contractors got greedy or bowed to the pressures of the industry to lower the costs of construction and increase already slim margins. We started paying people poorly, we didn’t give them any benefits such as health insurance, paid vacation, or sick days. We treated them as commodities, and with some trades, paid them for piecework for the work they put in place each day. It made no sense to care about them or value them as human beings. Even the immigrants that came here during the booms are staying away this time. We must reverse this. We must pay a living wage, perhaps even pay salaries for certain positions, provide benefits such as paid vacations, paid healthcare, and paid sick days. We must show these workers that we value them and treat them more like family instead of commodities.
Diversity: Our diversity issues is monumental. Every construction conference I attend is filled with middle-aged white men. And some of the vendors bring beautiful models, some scantily clad, to pitch their products or services. What year is this? 1950? If I were a woman or a minority, I would take one look at the demographic and run away like my hair was on fire. Many of the leaders in the industry say things like, “I don’t mind women and minorities in the industry”. They don’t get it. We can no longer merely tolerate women and minorities. We have to actively pursue and promote women and minorities and find ways to use their talents. We have to show these groups that we value them greatly and train them on how to thrive in this industry.
Generational Issues: These younger generations are lazy! They have no loyalty! The fact is that these younger folks are very smart and can come up with creative answers to our industry problems if we let them. And the loyalty label that we slap on them is a result of decades of laying people off when the work dried up. They saw this with their parents and they experienced it during the downturn. If there was work, you had a job. If there was no work, they could not find a job when they graduated. Or companies said, “Thanks for your 20 years. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” It’s no wonder that these kids developed a sense of how to take care of themselves. You’re right. There is no loyalty. From the Baby Boomers. That street goes both ways.
These problems are monumental, but not impossible. It comes down to the people dimension of this business. We must start to treat people like human beings. We must respect them, value them, and give them what they need to thrive. We must embrace innovation, new ideas, and the latest cutting edge technologies, we must pursue diversity, we must increase our productivity through people and processes, and we must take this industry to an entirely new level in a short period of time. If we don’t, our industry is in big trouble.