Even before COVID-19, construction companies were facing a shortage of skilled workers. The pandemic has only exacerbated the problem for contractors and many other types of businesses for that matter.

According to the 2021 Construction Outlook National Survey by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), 54% of contractors are having a hard time filling some or all salaried and hourly craft positions. That’s down from 81% in the 2020 survey, but it’s still a significant issue. In addition, 49% of respondents to the 2021 survey expected hiring to be as hard or harder in the coming months.

The labor shortage doesn’t just make it harder to handle current and future projects. It also creates safety issues. According to the 2021 AGC survey, contractors’ biggest challenge regarding worker safety and health is “inexperienced skilled labor/workforce shortage,” named by 59% of respondents.

There isn’t one right strategy for solving the problem. Construction companies need to get creative. Here are some ideas for combating the skilled labor shortage:

Hire interns or apprentices. Partner with local high schools, community colleges or trade schools to establish internship, apprenticeship and skills certification programs. These programs can be attractive to students — especially if they offer the prospect of a guaranteed hire.

Go digital. Traditional hiring techniques are no longer enough. Take advantage of social media, online job boards and other digital solutions.

Younger prospects are far more likely to conduct a job search online, and the Internet makes it easy to expand the search beyond your geographical market. Skilled workers in other parts of the state or country, where jobs are harder to come by, may be willing to relocate to secure a quality job with a reputable business.

Take advantage of job-site technology. Recent advances in construction technology enable contractors to do more with fewer people. For example, drones can be used for site surveys, job monitoring and inspections. Construction robotics can perform tasks such as building walls or running equipment or vehicles without the need for an operator.

Also look into robotic process automation (RPA) software. It automates certain repetitive tasks — such as creating invoices, generating estimates, processing vendor invoices and managing documents. In turn, this can lower labor costs, reduce errors and free up workers for more critical activities. RPA can even be used to respond to certain inquiries from customers or prospects.

When used properly, these technologies enhance efficiency and productivity. In addition, they reduce risk; for instance, using drones or robots instead of workers to perform dangerous tasks. They also offer a recruiting advantage: Adopting these tools creates a more tech-savvy culture that’s attractive to younger workers who wish to learn about and use cutting-edge technologies.

Strengthen your “employer brand.” A company should have a brand that inspires trust and is easy for customers to recognize. So too must an employer have a brand when it comes to appealing to job seekers.

To distinguish yourself from the competition, offer workers value beyond compensation. Examples include vacation and other paid time off, training programs, opportunities for greater work-life balance, and a clear career path. Hiring has been historically difficult for most employers recently. Strengthening your employer brand will give you a fighting chance.

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