It comes to us as no surprise that we continue to hear about the devastating damage that both Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have done. The reparations have only just begun but if history tells us one thing, it’s that we have a long road ahead before the destruction can be completely reversed. 

As we’ve come to learn from past natural disasters, the impact of these storms extends far and wide. Not only have entire communities been wiped out, costing and estimated $290 billion in damages combined, various businesses country-wide will be heavily affected, particularly the construction business. 

The demand for construction workers is one that has been steadily increasing within the last few years, and in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey’s and Irma’s aftermath, the labor squeeze has only gotten worse. Just this past June, before the hurricanes even hit, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 225,000 construction job openings. To put this in perspective, that is a 30 percent jump from last year and a 125 percent jump since 2012.

This severe shortage of construction workers is expected to cause widespread delays and push both labor and material costs sharply higher not only within the areas that were hit, but nationwide.

Even though the construction industry is currently at a bit of a crossroads, there is definitely no shortage of projects to be tackled, which bodes well for the long-term health of the commercial construction economy. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, contractors remain confident about new business over the next year. In fact, 97 percent have either high or moderate confidence and 95 percent expect either higher or stable revenues.

However, these expectations rest on acquiring the workforce necessary to get the job done. This brings up the question of how can we, as general contractors, navigate the construction worker shortage? 

How to Combat the Construction Labor Shortage

Expand Recruitment Efforts: Chances are your business’ recruitment methods haven’t changed much since you started. It’s time to take into consideration that merely tapping into your network or posting job ads online may not be cutting it at this moment. Seek out companies that specialize in connecting contractors with qualified workers, like the Construction Recruiters Network, Aerotek and Building Team Solutions.

Hire Young… And Take The Time To Train Them: One of the most prevalent factors contributing to the construction worker shortage is that there are fewer young men pursuing trade and vocational education. Part of this is due to their unwillingness to enter a business with short-term contractors. Successfully navigate this setback by taking the time to train new employees and creating an apprentice-type program to encourage teamwork and longevity within the company.

Review Hiring And Retention Practices: Experiencing more turnover than usual? Maybe it’s time to revisit the reasons why people left your company previously. In doing so, look for patterns to help improve your recruitment and retention efforts.

Make Worker Safety A Priority: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the construction industry has the second-highest suicide rate of all occupations, driven by the unstable nature of employment. Construction-related injuries are also an ongoing issue. Foster a positive work environment by engaging in open dialogue with your workers, building trusted relationships and providing a clear path for advancement.

Streamline Administrative Tasks: These days, a lot of administrative minutiae can be completed quicker with automated programs, like time tracking devices, scheduling applications, financial management tools and collaboration software. If you’re struggling to find the time needed to build up a skilled staff, consider employing some of this technology that will help you to save both time and money in the long run.

While things may be challenging for the construction industry right now in maintaining a stable workforce, there is a clear silver lining and it seems like forecast down the line doesn’t look nearly as bad. If you, like the vast majority of contractors nationwide, are experiencing difficulty hiring and retaining quality construction workers, it might be time to take a step back to identify the root of your company’s problem. For all you know, it could be a relatively easy fix!


Tammi Keckler is CFO, CEO and partner at JGL Consulting.