National Contractors Survey Shows “Cultural Shift in Construction” and Worker Shortage
AUSTIN (KXAN) – Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) released the results of a national survey of US contractors on Wednesday, revealing a snapshot of the state of the industry.
According to the AGC, 88% of companies with job vacancies (85% of respondents) struggle to fill them. The group notes that this finding is uniform among participants, regardless of size, work, or union status.
AGC chief economist Ken Simonson spoke about the results during a press call on Wednesday.
“This shortage adds to the effects of supply chain disruptions that have made it difficult for companies to deliver materials on time, driving up the cost of those materials,” Simonson said. “Supply chain problems and labor shortages make construction more expensive, which undermines demand for certain types of projects.”
Half of the respondents told AGC that they had projects that were cancelled, postponed or scaled back due to increased costs, and 22% reported similar setbacks due to delays.
In Texas, 53% of companies have increased their workforce, but nearly 92% of companies said they had difficulty filling vacancies. The greatest demand was for essential workers (69 companies), followed by heavy equipment operators (41 companies) and truck drivers (32 companies).
The main staffing difficulties faced by Texas contractors were a lack of skills (70%), failed drug tests (35%), and a lack of reliable transportation (29%).
“The most important takeaway from this year’s labor force survey is how much the country fails to prepare future workers for high-paying occupations in areas such as construction,” said Simonson. “In almost every community in this country there are open construction jobs that pay better than average jobs and are vital to local economic growth.”
AGC leaders in advocacy have urged expanded investment in education, as well as access to citizenship for undocumented workers.
Simonson concluded, “The bottom line is that we need to do a better job as a nation preparing workers of the future for the many high-paying job opportunities that exist in these industries – and many others.”
Technological Optimism: Artificial Intelligence and Robotics in the Workplace
Industry-adjacent software company Autodesk collaborated with AGC on the survey, represented by Allison Scott, Director of Customer Experience and Industry Support.
Scott, who describes himself as a “technology optimist,” offered the potential for AI and robotics to close the employment gap.
“Despite the continuing challenges expressed by respondents around labor and supply chain issues, there are promising trends around digital skills, artificial intelligence, robotics and diversity that point to a greater cultural shift and construction,” Scott said. “We see similar trends within our community of construction process professionals who use Autodesk tools; for example, 41% of companies are increasing spending on training and development programmes, 25% are enhancing their training online, and 14% are using augmented reality technologies Or the default in its training programs as well.
As for the work that could be done by AI and robots, Scott said it would primarily be repetitive and error-prone tasks, such as tying rebar and finishing drywall.
Scott said the data shows the industry is ready to welcome new robotic co-workers — 44% of respondents said the technologies would have a positive impact in the industry, and 41% said they believed the technologies would make work safer.
“The labor shortage in the construction industry is becoming more pressing as the current workforce retires,” Scott said. “The industry is not attracting enough people who are qualified and are developing the right skill sets.” “Most of the jobs I’ve had in this industry didn’t exist before when I first arrived. In another 20 years, we’ll have more roles that embrace and intertwine with technology in ways we can’t even comprehend right now.
What does each generation say about the next
AGC and Autodesk also brought in several contractors to give their opinions on the state of the industry.
Bill Ryan, an industry veteran of 28 years with Dick Anderson Construction,
“We’ve all heard the same thing about[the current generation]: they’re lazy, they don’t want to work. But that’s what a newspaper article from 1920 said about the next generation,” Ryan said. “Every generation said that about the next. I think it’s more about knowing their motives.
While Ryan points out that higher wages were important, he also stressed the importance of making sure workers kept their free time. He said that although he does not have the full picture of motivating the younger generations, he is an important target for the industry.
“Our seniors, our supervising supervisors, complain about it. (But) the reason there are so few of us in the room is because we survived the old-fashioned way. We survived being scolded, we survived being yelled at, we survived,” Ryan said. This does not work with the current generation. We have to find the right pieces and put them in the right places to motivate and know what are the motives of the younger generation, because it’s not worth just shouting and shouting and making fun of people anymore.
But Hal Vogelwand, of Naif River building materials and contracting services, disagreed with Ryan’s expectations.
“I want to paint a very bleak picture here,” Vogelwand said. “I hope I have a sense of optimism about the workforce out there.” “It’s like a revolving door. They’re just people… they won’t show up. You know, if you’ve got a big concrete pour scheduled for the morning, you’ll need 10 guys to handle it. Well, three guys don’t show up. They don’t call, nothing.”
On the technology side, Vogelwand noted how much the Global Positioning System (GPS) has pioneered the industry.
“If it hadn’t come when it did, I don’t know where we would be now. But we depend on it all the time now,” Vogelwand said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what happens with AI and robotics, and (we’re going to) really pursue that.”