Recruiting Today For Tomorrow's Work Force

By Steve Hudson | September 28, 2010

On any list of industries, construction is undoubtedly near the top when it comes to the opportunities for developing satisfying and rewarding careers. Recruiting, training and retraining of workers should not be difficult — but the reality is that work force recruitment is one of the greatest challenges facing the construction industry today.

Such recruiting, training and retraining efforts are even more important in light of the fact that in many parts of the Southeast the unemployment rate — and thus the number of potential recruits — is very low. For example, notes Alabama AGC president Henry Hagood, there is "virtually no unemployment in Alabama."

To find and develop prospective employees under such conditions, he says, the Alabama AGC has instituted a series of job fairs targeting a number of different groups of potential construction industry workers. Among them:

  • Recent graduates.
  • People with one or two years of college who have decided that college is not for them.
  • People who are over- or under-employed.
  • People in other fields who want to make a change.
  • Members of the Hispanic population.

"The Hispanic work force is the largest untapped pool of workers in Alabama," Hagood says, adding that Alabama AGC is already involved in training not only that potential group of workers but other groups as well. Targeting this group has involved marketing these job fairs in what many consider non-traditional ways through announcements in newspapers and at local churches.

Another target group is current high school students, where the key seems to be delivery of the message that construction really does offer a great career path. One group actively pursuing that angle is the Georgia Branch, Associated General Contractors, which executive vice president Mike Dunham says is making an "all-out press to get high school students seriously interested in construction as a career.

"The industry's need for manpower is acute," Dunham says, "and so work force development is a big issue for us." He notes that there are more than 14,000 high school students involved in construction trade programs in Georgia alone, adding, "We are working to mentor those programs to demonstrate the career paths that are available in our industry."

The number of high school students is not large enough to solve the industry's labor shortage, Dunham acknowledges. But he hastens to add that it represents a significant pool of interested, motivated people who would find solid career paths within the industry.

Another work force related factor cited by Dunham — and one that is having positive impacts in the Southeast — is the current shift in market conditions across much of the country.

"In some parts of country," he says, "market conditions are not as good as what we're seeing here in the Southeast." As a result, he notes, numbers of experienced workers are relocating to the Southeast where the career opportunities remain relatively strong.

Indeed, the view that a downturn in economic conditions may actually have positive impacts on construction's work force is one that's shared in many quarters. The effect is being seen in various ways, and Vikki McReynolds of the Georgia Utility Contractors Association comments on how it may play out in terms of labor supplies in the Southeast.

"Changing conditions are forcing many companies to tighten their belts," she notes, "and some companies will not survive."

What will become of the folks who formerly worked for those out-of-business companies? McReynolds notes that many of them will go on to enter the pool of available workers, with the result that large numbers of more or less experienced workers may tend to be available in the next year or so.

This pool of skilled workers in search of employment could become a significant factor in alleviating industry worker shortages, she continues — and since the number of such workers could be large, one result might be that prospective employers will be able to pick and choose.

"There will be a lot of competition for the jobs that are available," she says.

At the same time, McReynolds adds, companies are showing increased interest in training and retaining the workers they already have.

"A lot of companies want to continue to train the employees they already have," McReynolds says, "and move those employees up to positions such as superintendent." One result, she adds, will be that companies will be able to hold on to the investment they have already made in employee training and development, while at the same time benefiting from the already-developed skills of workers laid off from other companies.

"In that sense any future downturn in market conditions may actually be a factor that helps with creating an adequate supply of labor for the companies that do survive and thrive," she says.