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Addressing the Labor Shortage in the Construction Industry

By Luke Carothers

One of the immediate hurdles the AEC industry must overcome is a labor shortage, particularly within construction.  Across the globe, infrastructure spending is ramping up, but there are concerns that the rate of new people joining the workforce isn’t sufficient to support this future growth.  However, a potential solution to this problem can be found in its current digital transformation.

One way to overcome the labor shortage in the construction industry is to focus on not only what current jobs exist in the construction industry, but what they will look like in the near future.  Paul King, who is the Solution Director for Construction at Bentley Systems, believes that this focus on the future of jobs in the construction industry means understanding the industry’s digital transformation.  King leads Bentley’s global Construction Solution Engineering team, which supports project delivery organizations with their digital transformation.  

The need for more workers in the construction industry is present at varying levels around the globe, but, particularly within the United States, the labor shortage is standing at odds with projections of future infrastructure spending.  According to King, reports estimate that more than $550 billion will be spent on infrastructure in the next ten years alone.  To support this influx of spending, reports also estimate that the United States will need an additional 300,000-600,000 new workers to enter the workforce each year to support this pace of infrastructure spending.  

While more and more firms are moving along the process of digitization and more money is being allocated for infrastructure spending, King believes that this is a great opportunity to use these catalysts to spur recruiting for the industry.  In particular, digitization offers the construction industry an opportunity to change its image in the minds of potential young professionals.  King notes that there are often misconceptions about the construction industry–that it is dirty, dangerous, or repetitive–that aren’t necessarily true, thanks largely to new advances in safety technology and the digitization and automation of various processes.  For King, this is just one of the first steps in approaching issues of labor shortage in the construction industry.  

Covid and its reverberating effects have also impacted the number of new workers joining the construction industry.  Since the global outbreak of Covid in 2020, issues of mental and physical health have increased dramatically in young people for which the construction industry has historically not always supported.  In addition, there has also been a dramatic shift in the importance of a work-life balance for many young workers.  However, King believes that the digital future of construction means that the definition of what it means to work in the construction industry has expanded beyond working long hours on a construction site.

While there will always be people working on site to construct buildings and infrastructure, a digital future means that there are a vast host of roles that support the construction process.  For King, highlighting these non-traditional construction roles–data scientists, sustainability specialists, robotics experts, drone operators, logistics planners, material scientists, etc.– is key to generating excitement in the construction industry amongst new workers.  

Changing the popular image of working in the construction industry provides more fertile ground for recruiting young workers into the industry, but, according to King, this problem isn’t going to be solved by firms working hard to recruit new people.  Instead, King believes that efforts from firms need to be supported by larger government programs to show that careers in the construction industry are viable for people with a wide array of skills including artificial intelligence.  By industry and government working together to solve a common problem, this image change will be paired with active recruiting efforts, which will in turn inspire young people to join the construction industry.

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.