Lack of Skilled Workers a Challenge Facing Construction Industry

NASHVILLE—While a number of issues face the booming construction industry, one concern that has been discussed throughout the IRMI Construction Risk Conference here is the shortage of skilled workers. Projects are larger than ever, with technology and the global supply chain only adding to their complexity, making it even more difficult to find talent.

“The construction industry is absolutely in a war for talent,” said keynote speaker Dominic Casserley, chief executive officer of Willis Group Holdings. He cited a 2013 Willis survey that found 93% of respondents listed a “lack of skilled workers” as their biggest concern. He noted that many workers who left the construction industry during the financial crisis have since gained new skills in other areas and are not coming back.

An example, he said, is in his home, the United Kingdom, which decided in the last two years to return to building nuclear power stations. They had not done this for a number of decades and “quickly found that there were no engineers left. There was nobody capable of building a nuclear power station in the United Kingdom, so our new power station is being built by our great friends, the French. That’s what happens if you lose talent in an area of construction.”

Organizations are putting programs in place in the emerging markets to train talented resources “close to where the action is,” he said. Going forward, however, “We don’t see this challenge getting any easier.” Looking at millennials as a potential workforce, which represent 27% of the U.S. population, “you will see that they have some pretty interesting attitudes about work.”

Casserley noted that of millennials:

● four out of five feel they need to be recognized for their work and want regular feedback

● 72% would like to be their own boss

● 79% would like to have their boss serve as a coach or mentor

● 88% prefer a collaborative to a competitive work culture

● 88% want to integrate work and home life

● 74% want flexible work schedules

Asked how firms can bring millennials into their workforce and be flexible while still getting the job done, he said he views this as an opportunity for companies. “I think this is a very talented, aspirational, exciting generation. They are highly tech-savvy and have grown up in a global world.”

What employers will need to do, he said, is to “get their minds around how to harness that asset.” An interesting aspect about millennials, he noted, is their belief in having social value in what they do. “I can tell you, that for the generation entering the workforce today, that really matters. They want to work for a firm that means something to them so they can go home and feel proud of what they do.”

While all generations may feel this way, millennials are expressing it more openly. “And until you can get your mind around describing what [your industry] does and why it is important to the way the world goes around, I think we will struggle to attract and attain people, particularly that generation,” Casserley said, adding that if members of the industry don’t do this, “you are going to constantly lose people.”

Jack Gibson, president and CEO of the International Risk Management Institute (IRMI), agreed, noting that the construction industry is often viewed as a workplace where people are injured and the insurance industry is seen as a life insurance sales force. “Both industries do so much good, but we have not done a very good job of delivering that message,” he said. Gibson encouraged contractors to get involved in mentoring programs as well as the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF), which has contributed more than $18 million in local community grants and more than 155,000 hours of volunteer service.

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2 thoughts on “Lack of Skilled Workers a Challenge Facing Construction Industry

  1. Hi Caroline McDonald

    I was reading your comment about “lack of Skilled Workers a Challenge Facing Construction Industry”. I am originally from the U.K and moved to Canada. Canada is no different than the U.K. I left the British Army, my parents lived in Canada. I took a risk, but I had to go to school, Graduated from a University in Ontario, I have been continuing my education. I was a Machinist (did an Apprenticeship), through circumstances such as recessions, I went to school, continuing to go to school I am know a Health and Safety Professional. In Canada, here just like other Countries are going to be “suffering” because lack of qualified/experiences workers. I work in the Oil & Gas Industry in Alberta, in one year there was a 1000 workers needed who could weld, they could not get those workers because they did not exist. Your stats are interesting, it looks like the next generation wants to sit down and watch tv and get paid to do it;) Maybe countries and their respective employers have forgotten that “experiences workers” do not grow on trees. Yes I have seen a decline in the trades. Most organizations do not want to train people because once they are qualified they may move across the street for an extra $1.00 an hour. Yes it is a risk training somebody. But isn’t life about risk. I took a risk coming to Canada, I took a risk when I did my apprenticeship (PS I had a young family at the time). I took a risk going to University – I continue that trend – Always taking a risk, its fun


  2. Construction is a feast or famine job, the wages and job security is not available. The construction hit rock bottom, and the public took advantage of low wages and pushed the professionals out of the business.

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