How Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) can help combat the construction labor shortage

How Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) can help combat the construction labor shortage

The construction industry in North America has reached an interesting fork in the road when it comes to dealing with the ever-present labor shortage. While the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t helped, it’s certainly helped to shine a more focused light on the growing issue and shown how quickly a labor shortage can go from bad to worse.

Let’s break it down. Depending on the state you live in, construction was put on halt last year for anywhere from 2-4 months. Construction was then deemed an essential service and with some restrictions and new regulations in place, projects were able to start up again.

2-4 months doesn’t seem like a long time, and it isn’t in the grand scheme of things. However, in that time the industry lost more than 1 million workers according to a recent article by CNN. To put that into perspective, the housing crisis in 2008 caused the biggest dip in the construction talent pool and saw, you guessed it, around 1 million workers leave the industry.

The end result isn’t quite the same though. The housing crisis caused a majority of those workers to leave the construction industry and never return. On the flip side, after the COVID-19 pandemic the industry was able to recoup almost 80% of its workforce, but it exposed just how fragile the construction talent pool is and the industry is still down almost 250,000 workers across the US.

So, back to the fork in the road. As the demand for projects continues to grow, contractors and their respective human resource departments need to start thinking about how they can stabilize their available talent pool. The fork presents itself as a question – do we continue down the path we’re on, or do we take action and shake up the status quo?

One way of shaking up the status quo is to invest in expanding the talent pool, but there are two points related to this that are worth exploring.

  1. Construction has a diversity problem
  2. Change will take time, but it is possible

1. Construction has a diversity problem

This article from ForConstructionPros does a great job of outlining the possibilities when it comes to the impact equal representation would have on the construction talent pool. To summarize:

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current representation in construction is as follows:

  • 10.9% Woman (Office)
  • 1% Women (Jobsite)
  • 6% Black people
  • 2% Asian people

Compare that with the actual representation in the U.S. population:

  • 51% Women
  • 13% Black people
  • 6% Asian people

If those segments are represented in the total construction employment across the U.S equal to their respective populations:

  • 5,500,000 women would be added to the talent pool
  • 1,400,000 Black people would be added 
  • 647,000 Asian people would be added

If you’re looking to deal with the labor shortage directly, actively recruiting diverse team members and making the effort to have an inclusive culture might just be the best path forward.

2. Change will take time, but it is possible

Believe it or not, the time to act on this is now. Expanding the construction talent pool will take time to develop, which is something the construction industry has in short supply. Over the next ten years, the National Center for Construction Education and Research predicts that roughly 41% of the workforce will retire, including many management positions.

If that isn’t enough to make you rethink your company’s diversity think about this – according to Deloitte, across all industries, companies that prioritize diversity and inclusivity:

  • Are twice as likely to exceed financial goals
  • Are six times better at anticipating and responding to change
  • Generate 30% more revenue per employee

McKinsey shares that insight, reporting that diverse organizations earn, on average, 35% better results. According to Glassdoor, 76% of job seekers believe diversity is important when considering job offers and have even started giving diversity scores for companies. In fact, 1 in 3 job seekers would not apply at a company where there is a lack of diversity, which increases when considering Black or LGBTQ job seekers (41%).

Like mentioned earlier, this change will take time, but also buy in from leadership and a concerted effort to clear your mind of any conscious or unconscious biases when recruiting. You’ll need to take a holistic approach to improving DEI in your organization, and it goes beyond just inviting people with different backgrounds to an interview. Here are some other strategies you can try implementing:

  1. Exit interviews. When a team member has decided to leave your company, find out why. The best way to solve a problem is to understand the cause.
  2. Set up a referral program with your current team and be transparent about looking for diverse applicants.
  3. State in your job descriptions that you are an equal opportunity employer. This shows your applicants that inclusivity is a top priority. This may carry legal obligations, so make sure you reference your local compliance department.
  4. Get creative with job postings. Ask your workforce where they spend their time, or what their interests are. This can help inform new opportunities to post your job openings.
  5. Use inclusive language. This is pretty straightforward. Language influences the way we think and process information. If you use exclusionary language, it’s likely that your culture will reflect that.
  6. Eliminate privilege when listing prerequisites. Think about how many people with the skills you’re looking for won’t apply simply because you’ve outlined expensive courses or certifications that not everyone has access to. If someone has the skills you need, offer the training they’ll need to get started. I assure you – you’ll get back from your employees whatever you’ve invested in them, ten fold.
  7. Set goals and track progress. That isn’t to say you should set a quota. That’s the easiest way to alienate your diverse team members. Instead, understand where you’re at by auditing your current work environment and being honest about areas for improvement. 
  8. Show off your diversity. Job seekers want to see a future for themselves within your company. If your website images and leadership profiles are exclusively Caucasian men, you might find it difficult to have a serious conversation about career opportunities with diverse candidates.

Bridgit Bench is the leading workforce intelligence platform built specifically for construction. Our platform is fully customizable and helps operations and HR teams track any data relevant to their organization. This includes project histories, skills and experience, certifications, and any DEI metrics you might be hoping to track. For more information, or to book a demo of Bridgit Bench, click here.


Michel Richer

Michel Richer is the Content Marketing Manager at Bridgit. He got his start in the construction industry at an early age with a local restoration company. Michel is driven to propel the construction industry forward by helping to eliminate outdated, ineffective processes.,

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