How Construction Companies Are Dealing With the Skilled Labor Shortage

The skilled labor shortage in the United States' construction industry is real. How are companies and contractors working around it?

John Fedele/Getty Images

The Home Improvement Research Institute recently released a study on the current skilled labor shortage in the construction industry. The study shed new light on the labor shortage’s effects on construction companies and the perception of the shortage within the industry. It surveyed 509 construction professionals, most of whom work in the remodeling industry.

The Skilled Trades Shortage

Perhaps most importantly, the study confirms that industry professionals see a need for more skilled labor in construction. According to the survey, 72 percent of respondents felt there is a shortage of skilled labor throughout the construction industry in the U.S. Nearly half reported shortages in their companies.

It’s clear that contractors and industry professionals mainly agree that the skilled labor shortage is real and needs to be addressed. In the meantime, contractors still have businesses to operate, which means they’ll need creativity to get by with the workers they have.

How Construction Companies Are Getting By

To learn how construction companies operate without an ideal number of workers, the HIRI survey asked pros what methods they’ve taken to get work done with the perceived lack of skilled labor. Here’s a ranking of those methods:

  • 53 percent take fewer total projects;
  • 38 percent use more time-saving products to speed up the process;
  • 37 percent specialize in a smaller range of projects;
  • 35 percent only take higher-paying projects;
  • 34 percent narrow the geographic area they take jobs;
  • 33 percent added a training/apprenticeship program.

While there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to running a company short-staffed, construction professionals have adapted to the constraints of their labor pool by being flexible and specialized. Contractors learned that they can succeed by limiting the projects they take on while researching new, productivity-boosting products. Efficiency seems to be the common goal, and pros achieve it by becoming more specialized and localized.

The Business Impact of the Skilled Trade Shortage

But employing these methods does not mean the skilled labor shortage has no impact on a business. Half the pros HIRI surveyed still reported project delays due to a lack of skilled labor. Those who experience delays said that on average 22 percent of their projects are delayed, and that the delay typically lasts an average of four weeks.

So despite potentially increasing on-the-job efficiency and streamlining business, the methods pros reported using still can’t offset the lack of skilled labor. That’s why the last method listed in the rankings adding a training/apprenticeship program is so essential.

The other methods are more of a band-aid to the skilled labor shortage than an actual cure. The construction industry can try to cure its labor shortage by investing in younger generations through on-the-job training programs and apprenticeships. Construction can establish itself as an alternative career path, one that does not require a four-year degree or heavy student loan debt, and in doing so appeal to a new generation of workers.

For more on construction as an alternative career path, check out this video of Mike Rowe explaining the importance of the trades: