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Construction leaders take on labor shortage

Part one of three in the e-glass Special Series on Labor. Read part two and part three.

Leaders from the construction industry came together at the ENR Top Firm Leaders Forum, Sept. 26-27, in Crystal City, Va., to brainstorm the best ways of tackling the workforce crisis affecting the building industry. The forum was sponsored by McGraw Hill Construction and ENR magazine.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the Department of Labor, the construction industry will require 1 million new workers in the next six years and 2.4 million by 2014.

“This problem has developed over a long time, with demand [for construction] growing and a lack of young people coming in,” said Jim Bernard Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of The Shaw Group, a construction firm out of Baton Rouge, La. “It’s going to take a long time to move out of this problem we’re in.”

Bernard and other industry officials attributed the waning interest in construction jobs in part to lack of education in primary and secondary schools about the industry, and inaccurate perceptions that the jobs have low pay and little advancement.

During a panel discussion at the forum, 15 executives from design firms, general contracting companies and government discussed possible solutions to the labor crunch that ranged from more interaction with K-12 students to immigration reform.

Other ideas included: improving the image of the industry, increasing wages, outsourcing and offshoring jobs, adding and improving training, improving working conditions, and investing in tools to increase productivity.

“To make a change, we need to satisfy four things,” said Gregory Sizemore, executive vice president for the Construction Users Roundtable of Cincinnati. “It has to be doable, mutual, measurable and meaningful. We have to identify the issue or solution that brings the best investment and put all our resources in that.”

The concerns and recommendations from those at the forum echoed glass company managers at a breakout session of the Glazing Executives Forum Sept. 18, held in conjunction with GlassBuild America: The Glass, Window & Door Expo. During the breakout, glass executives said the labor shortage goes beyond finding entry-level workers and into finding management employees.

Some said they hire interns from local colleges and universities, hoping they will become fulltime estimators or project managers after graduation. Others said they look for experienced managers from other companies that might be looking for a job change.

Others recommended looking to classifieds, such as one created by the National Glass Association, for qualified project managers in other areas of the construction industry, because many of the duties carry over into glazing.

“We’ve been talking about the issue for 15 or 20 years. The difference is, we have the resources to deal with it now,” said Donald Whyte, president of the National Center for Construction Education and Research, Gainesville, Fla., during the ENR panel discussion.

Read more about the workforce crisis and what glass companies are doing to find and keep employees throughout the next several weeks in our e-glass special series on the labor shortage.

Send us an e-mail if you want to learn about any specific solution suggested above, or with comments.


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