Our Imminent Labor Shortage


Our Imminent Labor Shortage

From BCMC 2012 Educational Session:
“Preparing for the Future of Hiring”

Computer LabThe past five years have been tough on our sector of the job market, but it appears it will get even tougher. The construction industry lost more than two million jobs during the recession, and most economists believe that only half of those employees will come back into our industry. Construction jobs account for only five percent of all US jobs, but were 33 percent of the jobs lost during the recession.

Do I have your attention? 

Further, these statistics are actually masking a more serious problem. Several studies have been done in the past year that estimate about one in five members of the construction workforce will leave over the next three years as baby boomers continue to retire. Add to this the many other individuals who left the construction workforce and found jobs in other market segments over the past five years, and it’s easy to see a looming worker shortage.

A Disappearing Pipeline of Employees

Several surveys and studies have now shown that although we “right-sized” our companies during the recession, as we grow, we are all going to be competing for a smaller pipeline of employees entering our market sector. I’m not just talking about structural component manufacturers, I’m talking about the entire construction industry from developers, architects, engineers, building officials, general contractors, framers, manufacturers and other service related suppliers. 

Specific to our industry, we will likely see a high demand/short supply of truss technicians and higher skilled assemblers. According to a McGraw-Hill survey of Architects and Engineers (A&E) done in June 2012, A&E firms are predicting a shortage of nearly 80 percent between the number of individuals entering the workforce to replace those who will be leaving or retiring from their professions. In addition, in many cases we will be competing against contractors and framers who anticipate a similar shortage of about 50 percent. For many hiring right now, it’s not that they don’t have job openings; it’s that they cannot find the right people to fill those openings.

What Happened to the Pipeline?

Most individuals agree that parts of the construction industry are still suffering from a serious image problem where people think our industry looks the same as it did 30 or 40 years ago. It’s important for us to recognize that this image problem, in large part, is really our own fault! We don’t do a good job promoting our industry (we hope someone else will take care of this), or, worse yet, we “head-hunt” people from our competitors. 

In many cases, the problems we have start in the guidance and career counseling offices of our high schools, tech schools, community colleges and local universities.  They do not promote the opportunities in our industry. Instead, they are focused on high-tech labor, service industry positions, and the legal and medical fields. Now don’t get me wrong, these are certainly good opportunities, but we also have promising opportunities in our industry. In my research while contacting a representative group of counselors, I found that most of them did not know about our industry, and therefore were unaware of the opportunities we have or the skills that we require.

The good news is we can change this with some creative ideas.

Use Past Program Successes to our Advantage

Our industry and association have been very successful in promoting what we do with fire and building officials when we use truss plant tours and other programs to educate them. We need to have the same battle plan for our educational system. 

For example, David Mitchell with Engineered Building Design in Washington, IA, has made a point to work with the local high school’s industrial arts program. “I find that when I work with the teachers, and participate in projects, the students learn about our company and in many cases will apply for positions with us,” said Mitchell. Mitchell is in a unique situation in that his county has an unemployment rate of just 3.6 percent, so he has to compete aggressively with other factories and contractors.

You need to not only promote your company at career days, but also participate with students on work projects or local Habitat Build opportunities. What better way to show the valuable and innovative aspects of our engineering and structural component manufacturing industry than to build a house together with students? Many university fraternity systems participate with Habitat each year to build a house. Consider hiring an intern from a college or technical program; companies I have worked for have done that in the past and had great success with it.  And in some cases, hiring an intern will also allow your technicians to gain the benefit of a fresh perspective and brush up on CAD skills. 

Holding plant tours for a local school, much like we have done for fire and building officials, will allow a teacher to have an example of the material they may be teaching and allow you to educate students on the skills you need. I remember my father giving math teachers (Geometry and Trigonometry) examples of trusses so that they had an application for what students were learning in the classroom. 

The key to your company’s success is to develop relationships that allow you to learn of potential employees that fit your needs and culture, all while keeping the cost of doing so reasonable.

Get Creative

RecidivismAs you evaluate ways to reach out to your local high schools, technical colleges and community colleges, consider working together with SBCA to implement truss plant tours and link key school officials with SBCA’s WorkForce Development (WFD) project (see sidebar on page 16). While your private goal should be to develop personal business relationships to support your own employment needs, overall industry growth is dependent on developing a flow of potential employees that exceeds demand.

Local SBCA Chapters can be very effective in working together not only to promote our industry, but to collectively address what will be a major labor issue for all of us. Another avenue
of potential personnel supply are other construction associations. Getting tied in with these other organizations serves multiple purposes:

1. You get the chance to promote truss plant tours and provide an SBC industry perspective;

2. You will build a strong network and that can always lead to new relationships whether they be business or employment related; and,

3. You will gain the benefit of WFD ideas from the various groups that you can use in your own business.

One good example of creativity and providing a community service is a program Don Groom, Panel Truss Texas, created with his previous employer where he worked with local prison officials (see photo above and SBC Magazine, March 2005) to both use labor inside the prison, but also provide a path for employment post-incarceration. Another closely aligned example is the program Clyde Bartlett of Bluegrass Truss developed that focused on similar rehabilitation concepts.

Make no mistake. We will face a labor shortage soon if we do nothing. However, if we are proactive and creative today, we have an opportunity to mitigate or even eliminate a shortage in our industry. Please become an active advocate, and help your business and our industry turn the tide. 

Ben Hershey is President of 4Ward Consulting and a Past President of SBCA. “Preparing for the Future of Hiring” will be delivered again as an SBCA Annual Workshop session on February 12, 2013.

Don’t know where to begin?

WFD screen shot SBCA is a great place to start because many of the resources you may need have already been developed. Simply log onto SBCA’s Workforce Development website, wfd.sbcindustry.com, to find:

• A job opening creation and posting service
• A resume building and posting service
• Roadmaps for manufacturers and school counselors to use in engaging students in the industry
• Presentations for manufacturers to use in promoting careers in the industry
• A structural components industry promotion binder, complete with customizable brochures

Use these SBCA resources to your advantage and begin building your own employee pipeline.


Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employment Projections: 2010-2020 Summary

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employment Projections: Frequently Asked Questions

McGraw Hill Construction: Construction Industry's Workforce Shortage Brings Concerns, but Green Jobs Bring Promise, According to New McGraw-Hill Construction Report

BUILDER 2012: Builders Brace for Labor, Skill Shortages

Construction Labor Market Analyzer (CLMA): Projected Demand for Craft Labor for the Southeast United States (2012–2017)

Texas Workforce Press Release: Collin College Partners with Manufacturing Consortium for $192,859 Job-Training Grant

scnow.com Morning News Online: FDTC, York programs fill gap for skilled labor

BUILDER 2012: Where Demand Is Sprouting, Labor Shortages Are Close Behind