Bad management is killing the construction labor force
When people talk about the construction labor shortage the knee jerk reaction is; Calling all high schools - we need new people in the industry, stat!
And yeah, that's true.
Like using a sieve for a bucket, it won't work if nobody stays in the business.
The data is clear; construction has yet to return to the pre-financial crisis employment peak.
Any guess when that peak employment month was?
Construction employment peaked in August of 2006 when 8.045 million people were employed in construction.
That was 183 months ago.
April 2006 was back when Tiger Woods was dominating golf, Barry Bonds was dominating baseball and Talladega Nights was number one in the box office.
Shake 'n bake.
The closest we've come since then is 7.761 million in August of 2019.
As of November 2021 we're at 7.605 million or 440,000 people short of that peak. In the situation we're in today with Total Available Construction Labor (TACL) at negative 100,000, finding 420,000 more people is a daunting task.
Why can't we get back to peak employment levels? The topic that is completely missing from the skilled trades shortage discussion is retention.
Growing a workforce is a two step process.
- Step 1: Get people (acquire)
- Step 2: Keep people (retain)
Retention isn't as easy as we'd hope.
One of the biggest barriers for retention is an overabundance of bad managers.
It goes like this. New person comes into construction. Makes a few good paychecks. Like what they're doing. Wants to learn. Realizes they work for a total prick. Realizes they can make a decent living without putting up with this guy. Leaves the industry.
All that work of attracting a new person to the industry goes down the drain.
What a waste.
The industry needs to put more attention on developing leaders. Not bosses (we've already got plenty) but leaders.
Leading isn't natural to most people. Demanding people follow orders is much easier.
Firing people instead of dealing with feedback is so much more satisfying in the moment.
Yet this one problem; promoting people into management - starting with foremen - who don't know how to lead people is causing way too many people to leave the industry.
This is why we were encouraged to read about Project Engage this week. This is a program focused on developing culture and building leaders.
Bravo to Procore and to the AGC of California. ??
The program is targeting management level folks at companies, which is a great start.
This highest impact for retaining skilled tradesmen will be at the field level. Companies need to put this same effort and resources behind front line supervisor training.
Do you have good a front line supervisor training program? We'd love to highlight what you're doing. Send us a note and let us know what you're doing.
To those of your working just as hard to keep your people as you are at finding new people, we salute you.
To those of you who aren't putting enough attention on this, the good news is this is low hanging fruit. Get after it!