Using data to reduce your construction skills gaps

Using data to reduce your construction skills gaps

The culture around construction employment has made a dramatic shift in recent years. As baby boomers begin to retire and with millennials now making up 35% of the workforce, many general contractors are wondering how to make their organization more attractive to younger workers that don’t see construction as a fulfilling career choice.

A skills gap in the construction industry isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A relatively small gap in the demand and supply is a good indicator of a growing industry and allows workers to change jobs to further their careers. On the other hand, too many job openings in relation to the available workers leads to difficulty filling positions, and the pipeline for workers is falling behind the demand.

In a survey done by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) it was found that 80% of contractors are having difficulty finding skilled workers. This difficulty is amplified by the urgency of replacing an aging workforce that is moving toward retirement.

In this article, we’re going to explore different ways you can use your data to help reduce your skills gap.

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Understand your skill gaps

No one can understand the specific skills you need to close your skill gaps better than you can. If you are in need of skilled workers it’s important to highlight the specific skills and experience you’re looking for. If you’re using a construction workforce management tool that allows you to track experience and skills, take the time to analyze your team’s data to understand exactly what your existing expectations are for specific roles in your organization.

A report by Burning Glass Technologies, a labor market analytics provider, indicates that the construction industry has actually had more supply than demand when it comes to skilled workers over the past few years. That supply-to-demand ratio, however, has diminished year after year. Part of the problem is that organizations will often demand skill sets and experience instead of offering training and experiential learning. Everyone wants to hire the “best of the best”, but often candidates that qualify for positions will be overlooked because the demands exceed that of the existing qualifications of the current team.

Ryan Companies takes on this problem by creating a development plan that tries to help current employees learn from a variety of angles. Erin O’Hara Meyer, the Senior Director of Talent Development at Ryan Companies explains:

“We ask people to think about their goals and objectives, what they need to know, what they need to learn and let them begin by taking responsibility for what’s most important to them. 

Beyond that, learning, especially in today’s world, comes from a variety of sources. There’s on-demand learning, videos, virtual sessions, in-room sessions, coaching, and peer interaction. They’re learning all day every day, whether they recognize it or not. But the amount of time that we can invest gets tighter as we get busier. We’re in the same boat as all those other GCs. Time is really of the essence and is a valuable commodity. So our goal is to truly focus on what’s most important and offer it in digestible amounts of time.”

We live in an experience-based economy and that mindset gets carried over into how and where we choose to work. General contractors that invest in providing skills development and experience for employees rather than demanding it are more likely to retain high-performance individuals in the long run.

Create a path to career success

This will start with company culture. Your organization should put an emphasis on engaging employees with opportunities for new training, experiential learning, and mentorship programs. Your organization should also clearly define roles, responsibilities, and qualifications for employees as they work their way up through the company.

So the question becomes, how can you incorporate training and experiential learning while understanding the importance of completing projects on time? Ryan Companies tries to achieve this balance through its Emerging Leaders program. O’Hara Meyer told Bridgit the program is based on three pillars of learning:

“The first pillar is professional development. We offer everything from management skills to leadership training and all sorts of personal and professional development. The second pillar is understanding business operations. We invite a lot of leaders throughout the year for questions and answers on what leadership means to them, things that they’ve learned along the way, and strategies for reaching our goals and objectives.

Then the year culminates in a project. They’re given a project early on that they have to research and solve and make a recommendation to. They’re projects that are deemed important and at the end of the year, they present as teams to our leadership to say that we recommend this or we don’t recommend this and here’s why.”

Where does data come into play? Tracking experience with insight into project history will allow you to stay ahead of opportunities for career advancement. It’s great to have employees interested and asking about new opportunities within the company, but it’s equally great for your company culture if those opportunities are being offered from the top down. 

By addressing your team’s experience and placing an emphasis on growth and development, employees will be more likely to engage in their organizational culture. This will help to change the perception of working in the construction industry, and more specifically, your company.

Understand your hiring trends

This can be one of the most difficult trends to predict given the dynamic nature of construction projects and the industry as a whole. Too often the recruitment process is reactionary to immediate project needs. Construction workforce management tools that offer insight into your workforce utilization into the future will help to forecast future staffing needs.

Companies like Wohlsen Construction are using these tools to make strategic business decisions about what projects they go after so they can ensure they have the right talent in place for a pursuit prior to it being awarded. Ed McCauley, the Vice President of Innovation at Wohlsen explains how Bridgit Bench helps them do this: “In Bridgit Bench, what-if scenarios are easy to put in place. We can see what the impact is, learn on the fly, and make quicker decisions. I think that the speed to the decision that Bench gives us has helped in planning and determining go/no-go scenarios. We can ensure that we have the talent to put on the project to be successful for ourselves and also for the clients.”

You should aim to identify areas in the coming months or even years, where your team is spread too thin. Identifying these areas early will give you ample time to begin the recruitment process for your required roles. It also provides you with enough time to potentially train candidates or current team members to take on required roles.

Your insight into workforce utilization will also help to identify times when your company can take on more work. Often these gaps can lead to periodic layoffs for team members, which can often lead to employees understandably seeking work elsewhere. However, these gaps in productivity are also opportunities to provide new training and mentorships to high-performing individuals to keep them engaged with your organization through downtimes.

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Nemanja Simic headshot

Nemanja Simic

Nem is a content writer at Bridgit. He started his career in business development where he spoke to contractors daily, providing him with a deep understanding of the problems around workforce planning in the construction industry. Using this insight, Nem developed an approach that aims to provide digestible, data-backed advice to help contractors get the most out of their workforce strategies.

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