Overcoming Labor Shortages

Labor Shortages Blog Image

If you work in construction chances are you’ve been working a few more hours, wearing several more hats of responsibility and perhaps even increasing the flow of your personal caffeine drip.  You don’t need to be informed that there is a labor shortage, you’ve been living it and are keenly acquainted with the reality.  One question I keep hearing from construction leaders is why don’t people want to work anymore? While that is a valid question - I think it is vital to first figure out how you, your team and your company can thrive despite cultural shifts and a meager labor force.  It’s time to innovate and lead change in industry, and not fall victim to marketplace circumstance or burnout yourself and all of your existing A-players in the process.

Let’s look at some current environmental realities and then I will share some practical solutions my clients have implemented over the past two years to build their teams and simple shifts that are supporting their hiring process. 

For all of us that have worked in the industry for more than the past decade, there are scars and war stories of how we lived out the 2008 economic crash.  While you may have survived or completely rebuilt your business - you now recognize that many former vendors, partners and go-to experts left the industry all together.  The New York Times reports 630,000 construction works left the industry in 2008.

In addition to that loss, the National Center for Construction Education & Research says roughly 41% of the current workforce will retire in the next ten years.  As these experts leave the field, they are taking their knowledge and expert skills with them. Often employers fail to make room for cross training and knowledge transfers - so not only has the company lost a laborer, they may have also lost their go to expert.  To add insult to injury while one generation is exiting the workforce the Millennials (who will make up half of the workforce by 2025) who according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce 61% view construction work as unrewarding and a “dirty job.”

That’s 3-strikes against the industry workforce without even mentioning a global pandemic, inflation and supply chain delays! (Don’t throw your hands up in the air and give up, hang with me there is still hope and a way through!) The Associated Builders and Contractors estimate there is a need for 650,000 additional workers to full the existing shortages in construction labor in 2022.  These facts paint a sobering picture that something needs to shift and change to attract and motivate a new candidates into the skilled labor trades.

The days of simply posting a job opening and getting flooded with qualified candidates who are eager to work seem to have faded into a by-gone era, sad but true.  Over the past two years I’ve worked with several business owners and their HR Specialists to find simple shifts that produce strong teams, loyal employees, and attract new talent.

6 Actions to Build Your Team With Excellence:


Communicate with simplicity and regular frequency articulating expectations, roles and responsibilities.  Even if you’ve already said it, say it again. Repetition of key priorities, process and expectations delivered with appreciation and validation keep you and your team connected. 


Invest in your employees, for they are the greatest asset of your company and your sustainability, profitability and daily workflow are dependent on them.  You know you can’t do it all on your own and the more you can release the daily operations to strong team leads the greater you can grow your company.  So, invest in your employees with further education, training, certifications, coaching, perks and through intentionally growing a supportive culture.


Figure out how to do more with less. If the labor pool is shallow, how can you accomplish more with what you already have?  Protect and invest in you’re A-players and lean into technology, software and equipment investment to increase capacity.


Establish a referral program for existing employees.  There is no greater invitation to join a team than from an existing member who loves the work they do and the company they work for.  There is such high value in relationship.  When an individual gets introduced to a company through its existing employees there is already a relational connection that establishes a level of trust and interest.


Refine your hiring process by shifting the narrative and opportunity you promote in your job postings.  Don't stop with the traditional job post that includes the job description, qualifications and payroll and benefits. Create a new narrative that offers a career path and a skilled trade. Invite candidates into an opportunity of growth, education and economic opportunity. Fast food restaurants may offer $20 per hour, but where’s the future potential?  In construction entry level positions may start at a slightly lower hourly rate, but they create a long-term training ground and offer the opportunity to become a skilled expert in industry.  Today’s marketplace needs you to paint the BIG picture of possibilities and attract qualified teachable candidates that will take ownership in their work and pride in their labor.


Get strategic with your partnerships to create systems to attract next the generation into the field of construction.  Consider creating apprenticeships.  Or consider talking to local educational outlets and encourage the offering of shop classes and the like, creating your own resource funnel for labor. 

I spoke with the HR Director of Elk Creek Forest Products in McMinnville, Oregon, Breanne Marsh and her experience confirms many of the challenges every business is facing right now, and she shared some actions that are benefiting their team.

“There has definitely been a steep drop in the number of candidates applying for open positions, and even with a recent uptick in applicants they are lower caliber with weak resumes, low motivation and challenging to engage with,” explains Marsh. “When traditional direct calls and e-mails weren’t getting us anywhere, we started to use more texting but even that it is still challenging to secure interviews and when they do show up, they don’t seem eager to learn about the company or even make a positive impression.”  Marsh went on to describe a series of interviews where people only seemed interested in the pay scale and were distracted by their phones, even to the point of taking another call during an interview and scrolling on their phones while taking a tour of the facilities.

Has your experience in hiring been similar? Or perhaps you’re like many small business owners I’ve connected with who are beyond over worked and exhausted, and when I suggest that they seek to hire new labor they reply, “The demands on us are so intense, I don’t have the time to waste and besides why would I try when no one wants to work anyway?” I understand that point of urgency and I recommend instead of trying to muscle your way through, slow down enough to assess your needs and if necessary reach out for outside support from a recruiter or a consultant like myself who can take on the busy work of finding the right person for the job. Settling for a seemingly able body can often get you in a worse position. And to continue to do all the work yourself or burnout your A-players is not a solution either.

Marsh said despite challenges in filling entry level position, applying several of the recommendations listed above, her team has made quality hires in leadership roles and administration positions.  “We’ve gained good talent through our employee referral system and by altering our job listings to include more of the culture and intangible benefits of being part of our team.”  She encourages all businesses in the industry saying, “Don’t be ok with the status quo and lower your expectations. Keep at it, trying subtle shifts to attract the quality and talent you’re seeking.  There are diamonds out there that want to be drawn into a team to shine.” 

“Don’t grow tired in communicating who you are as a company and what you have to offer,” urges Marsh. May her words and her decade of experience encourage you to stay the course and grow your team and your company with excellence.

Yes, there may be a great need of labor to fulfill the demands in your industry - but you have the ability to pivot and intentionally innovate the way you build your team and improve your processes in a way that sustains the current circumstances and challenges.  You have the grit and the expertise, it’s time to reveal your greatness!

If you or your HR Department need some outside insight or help in supporting your team or recruiting talent please set up a Solutions Call or email hello@BuildingExcellence.pro for a complimentary consultation that will deliver a Next Steps Strategy to get you unstuck and drive new action.