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

If you’re wondering why diversity in construction is important and how it could help combat the construction labor shortage, this article is your answer.

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, the construction industry in North America reached an interesting fork in the road when it came to dealing with the ever-present labor shortage. The pandemic was yet another contributing factor and helped shine a more focused light on the growing issue of how quickly a labor shortage could go from bad to worse.

Construction was put on halt as a result for anywhere from 2 to 4 months (depending on the state). Only afterwards was construction then deemed an essential service, and with some restrictions and new regulations in place, projects were able to start up again.

2 to 4 months doesn’t seem like a long time—and it isn’t in the grand scheme of things. But in that time, the construction industry lost more than 1 million workers according to 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 leaving the industry.

The end result wasn’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.


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The current state of diversity in the construction industry

Here’s what you need to know about where diversity currently stands in the construction industry.

Diversity and inclusiveness: the biggest concern in the construction industry

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 and encouraging construction diversity. The possibilities when it comes to the impact equal representation would have on the construction talent pool are endless.

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

  • 11% Women
  • 6.3% Black or African-American people
  • 2.1% Asian people

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

  • 50.52% Women
  • 12.2% Black or African-American people
  • 5.6% Asian people

If those segments are represented in the total construction employment across the U.S equal to their respective populations, millions of people could potentially be added to the talent pool. 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.

The growing pains of diversity in the construction industry

While it’s easy to conceptualize a diverse workforce, there’s also work to be done if implemented. 

According to a survey conducted by the National Institute of Building Sciences, while 43% of respondents from across various groups indicated that their company had formed a DEI program, 66% reported experiencing gender or racial discrimination in the workplace.

This indicates that the construction industry has a long way to go in creating a welcoming and safe environment to attract and retain workers from different backgrounds and identities.

The role of construction diversity and inclusion

Properly implementing diversity and inclusion plays an important role in combating the labor shortage and solving some of the construction industry’s core issues. Here’s how:

  • Encourages creative problem-solving – Workers from diverse backgrounds with different experiences are likely to propose and introduce new, innovative solutions, which can be extremely beneficial when projects are in a bind.
  • Mitigates the risk of lacking productivity – It’s no secret that the construction industry struggles greatly with productivity growth, which sees time and cost overruns and poor performance overall. More potential hands mean increased productivity.
  • Improves job satisfaction – Diversity efforts can cultivate greater engagement, which can lead to better worker retention and prevent costly turnover. Accordingly, a study showed that workers satisfied with their company’s commitment to diversity were twice as engaged.

Common reasons for lack of diversity in construction

So if diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace are so beneficial, what’s stopping companies from considering prioritizing it? Here are a few common reasons that construction firms lack diversity:

  • Decision makers remain uninformed or unconvinced – All recruitment and hiring practices must go through key decision makers, who may either be unaware of the benefits of diversity or feel that it isn’t worth the investment. Unfortunately, it can simply end there and be a detriment to their firm’s overall growth.
  • The right policies aren’t in place for worker retention – Whether it’s reassessing or establishing policies for maternity and paternity leave or creating programs for educating employees, the right policies must be put in place to ensure that workers are satisfied with their jobs and don’t end up leaving.
  • Failure to prevent harassment and violence – It’s one thing to hire from diverse backgrounds, it’s another to create a safe working environment. Zero-tolerance anti-harassment and discrimination policies can prevent the violence so prevalent in the construction industry. 

Change will take time, but it is possible

Believe it or not, the time to act on diversity in construction is now. Expanding the talent pool will take time to develop, which is something the 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
  • Six times better at anticipating and responding to change
  • More likely to generate 30% more revenue per employee

McKinsey shares that insight, reporting that diverse organizations earn, on average, 35% better results. 

And according to Glassdoor, 76% of job seekers believe diversity is important when considering job offers. They’ve even started giving diversity scores to 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 to 41%.

This change will take time, with a need for buy-in from leadership and a concerted effort to clear conscious or unconscious biases when recruiting. Taking a holistic approach to improving construction diversity means going beyond just inviting people with different backgrounds to an interview.

8 strategies to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in construction

Here are some other strategies you can try implementing:

  1. Conduct 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 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 and show a lack of construction diversity.
  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. You’ll get back from your employees whatever you’ve invested in them tenfold.
  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 one type of person, you might find it difficult to have a serious conversation about career opportunities with diverse candidates.

If you found this article interesting, you can read our other article related to diversity in construction, women in construction, and their push for more inclusive terminology.

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To get more information, talk to one of our workforce planning experts today.


Michel Richer - Content Marketing Manager

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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