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Beyond Mentorship

The worker shortage statistics are rather bleak. Last year, the AGC (Associated General Contractors of America) indicated 91% of construction firms are having a hard time finding workers to hire, which is driving up costs and project delays. This challenge seems to be stagnant—or potentially even getting worse. The 2021 numbers suggest 89% of contractors had a hard time finding workers. So, it seems we are trending in the wrong direction.

The reality is this is a problem that is impacting nearly every construction company in nearly every niche, as research shows nearly identical results were reported by contractors that use exclusively union craft labor and by firms that operate as open-shop employers. It is touching small companies and large companies. It spans all four regions of the country and all types of work—buildings, highways, federal, heavy work, utility infrastructure, you name it.

Construction firms are also getting more involved in preparing future workers for careers in construction. The AGC survey suggests 51% of respondents—up from 37% in the 2021 survey—report they have engaged with career-building programs such as high school, collegiate, or technical school construction programs.

Construction companies are also enhancing investments in training programs. Roughly 47% of firms are increasing spending on training and professional development programs, 25% are enhancing their on-line and video training capabilities, and 16% are using AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) technology to better train workers.

The good news is we see many organizations are recognizing this is a challenge, and many are taking steps to do something about it. For example, CASE Construction Equipment, which is a brand of CNH Industrial N.V., has partnered with nonprofit Crew Collaborative to build a new career counseling and mentoring program for high school students interested in the construction industry trades. FrameWork, as it is called, will launch in the first quarter of 2024.

However, the two organizations will be at CONEXPO/CON-AGG this week to solicit stories of how mentors have changed the lives of those in the construction industry and what paths industry veterans would recommend to best begin a career in the trades. They will also gather names of those interested in potentially serving as mentors to interested high school students.

We need to see more partnerships like this. It is a good first step—but I am not sure if it is going to be enough. Mentorship alone won’t solve the crisis the construction industry is facing with the worker shortage. It is just putting lipstick on a pig. Rather we need to think bigger and work larger for the greater good and not just for the marketing will of it. In fact, we need to go a step further and we need to reward, inspire, and innovate in construction like I was suggesting last week.

The only way we are going to make any progress is if we are creative in our efforts and we do this together. We need to think about how we encourage other women and people in general. I am pretty certain many of you have heard or read the latest conversation around the “Tall Poppy Syndrome.” In a world where we need to encourage each other, this social phenomenon emphasizes how we are putting too much focus on putting people down for their genuine merits. Rather we should be inspiring the tallest poppy to grow and shine less on trying to make them fall. What a concept in world where we can’t even find enough workers to begin with?

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