Piece by piece: The state of affairs in the construction industry


With summer just around the corner, individuals across the country can expect some big changes. Kids will be home from school, traffic will feel more congested than ever and vacation plans will be made.

But summer also means big projects and a general boost in business for construction companies. From home renovations to demolition projects, the industry will have its hands full. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of hands in the world of construction.

The Association of General Contractors found that 70% of construction firms report having a hard time filling hourly craft positions that represent the bulk of the construction workforce. Hiring unqualified skilled labors can result in an unsafe work environment and lead to major exposures and liabilities. In fact, Travelers Construction claim data show that 52% of all workplace injuries occur in the first year of employment.

Despite being at a major crossroad, construction companies can implement change from within to revitalize the industry going forward.

The last decade

The construction industry has undergone some major changes in the last 10 years. In 2008, largely due to the financial crisis, work in construction took a hit.

“Took a few years for the activities to get to the levels we’re seeing today,” says Bob Kreuzer, vice president, construction risk control for Travelers. The risk control group helps underwriters conduct business, but it also spends a lot of time in the field — around 300 job sites are visited and assessed each week.

In Kreuzer’s mind, the industry hasn’t changed too much, but the biggest challenge is undoubtedly finding skilled labor due to a number of factors. When the industry declined in 2008, many workers within the field found other trades and didn’t come back, and union contractors and non-union contractors alike couldn’t find potential workers.

Construct a smarter hiring process

Over time, markets recovered and industries across the board attempted to reassemble themselves from the rubble. As the construction world looks to fill the labor gap, Kreuzer mentioned some ways companies can improve the hiring process.

Working with contractors is one of the first steps companies should consider. Kreuzer believes the hiring process should include a well-written job description that outlines the experience and abilities required to attract the right talent. Additionally, interview protocols should shift away from “yes”-or-”no” answers and instead ask ones with specific questions and scenarios a worker can expect on the job site.

The issue of safety can always use a boost. Kreuzer suggests making sure that key tasks are broken down for each worker and identifying the risks that come with each; for example, color coding hard hats can help identify new workers, especially since companies “might go through a worker or two before they find someone with the pre-requisite skills” that aligns with a specific job. On-the-job training and leadership training are another way companies can invest in their workers, the company and develop a more cohesive group of workers.

The key to any construction project is the foundation, and the key to the industry as a whole is the workers. Whether the construction industry is in a lull or thriving, companies need to be sure its employees are ready for the next project they embark on.

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