Commercial project index reveals ongoing workforce imbalances

Sources: USG Corp., Chicago; U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, D.C.

Surveys behind the Q1 2019 USG + Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index find that the labor shortage continues to pose major challenges to the industry, causing contractors to ask skilled workers to do more work (81 percent of respondents), struggle to meet deadlines (70 percent), increase costs for new work (63 percent), and reject new projects (40 percent).

As the industry fights to solve the labor shortage, the latest survey suggests a contributing factor could be young workers’ negative perceptions of construction careers, leading to fewer candidates entering the labor pool. When asked about the biggest myths surrounding commercial work, contractors cited the perception of "dirty" jobs (61 percent); tasks requiring only brute strength (55 percent); and, construction representing a "job" versus career (52 percent). Yet, contractors note good pay, opportunities for advancement, and the ability to learn new skills on the job as the best reasons to pursue a career in construction.

"It is important for construction leaders to consider how we can shift the perception of the industry and increase the number of young workers who want to work in the trades," says USG CEO Jennifer Scanlon. "Retention will be particularly important to meet infrastructure demands, as well as a continued focus on innovative processes and technology on the jobsite."

Contractors agree that the best way to increase the skilled workforce in U.S. construction is to boost technical school enrollment and vocational training. A better reputation for compensation, apprenticeship programs and opportunities for advancement were also cited among Q1 2019 Commercial Construction Index survey participants as ways to recruit more workers, particularly those under the age of 30. To retain employees, 55 percent of contractors believe there should be more opportunities for advancement, in addition to increased employee engagement and more on-the-job training. The growing role of technology on the jobsite was also cited as a means to attract the next generation of workers to the construction workforce.

The Index factors survey responses from up to 2,700 commercial construction stakeholders and measures three leading indicators—backlog, new business confidence, revenue—to gauge confidence in the industry. A composite index on the scale of 0 to 100 serves as contractor segment indicator on a quarterly basis. Overall, the Q1 Index composite score of 72 shows a healthy market though contractors may be slightly more cautious about the health of the commercial construction industry. The survey was fielded in January during the federal government shutdown, likely placing concerns about economic stability and future growth as more top-of-mind than previous surveys. Data about industry perceptions should still be troubling to anyone looking to solve the prevailing labor shortage, USG and Chamber officials note.