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Labor Shortage: Summit Summary

During the Metal Construction Industry Summit, the industry gathered to discuss the labor shortage

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Photo courtesy of Wood's Powr-Grip

On Thursday, April 12, contractors, builders, manufacturers and suppliers descended on Chicago for our Metal Construction Summit. This year’s topic was “Attract and Retain: Developing a Workforce for the New Metal Construction Industry.”

Discussions throughout the day centered on the biggest issue currently facing the construction industry: the shortage of skilled labor. During the morning session, speakers and presenters all spoke on various aspects of the topic, while in the afternoon, attendees regrouped into small groups for in-depth discussions on the various related issues.

Speaker Highlights

Speakers for the day included William Good, retired CEO of the National Roofing Contractors Association, who kicked off the event with his keynote address, “A Fresh Take on an Old Problem.” He talked about how the labor shortage is not a new problem, but has its roots from long ago. He cited three causes of the problem: demographics, societal issues and the immigration policy.

Following the keynote was a panel discussion on how to attract great workers. Jim Tuschall, president and owner of Tuschall Engineering, Burr Ridge, Ill., Tim Seyler, president of S&S Structures, Blandon, Pa., and Todd Miller, president of Isaiah Industries, Piqua, Ohio, answered questions and gave some first-hand insight on how their different companies are attracting and retaining employees.

Rick Lochner of RPC Leadership Associates followed up with his presentation, “Why Don’t They Understand?” Lochner went into detail on the different generations we see in today’s workforce and how to best relate and communicate with them.

The morning session ended with Gary Smith, retired founder of Thomas Phoenix International, Eastampton, N.J., and former president of Metal Building Contractors & Erectors Association (MBCEA), doing a deep dive into “Establishing Effective Training Programs.” Smith helped develop AC478, the "Accreditation Criteria for Inspection Practices of Metal Building Assemblers," which is a program was spearheaded by the MBCEA in consultation with Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA) members.

What to Do

While the shortage of skilled labor is not going away anytime soon, there are things that contractors and builders can do. In his keynote address, Good addressed a number of ideas including having contractors get into the schools and making sure students know of the opportunities in the construction field. He also discussed immigration and the cultural issues that companies encounter with the current minority workforce, before wrapping up with the importance of investing the time and energy to train the workforce.

Overall, the general consensus was that there is a need to get into the local schools, even elementary and junior highs, to tell the real story of the construction industry. Schools are steering kids into four-year colleges more than ever, and while that works for many students, it’s not the answer for all. It is important to know the opportunities that exist within the construction industry.

One of the other topics discussed was immigration, and how important it is to get involved with Congress to let them know how the current immigration policies are affecting the industry. And, since much of the current workforce is from minority cultures, it is important to learn how to relate and connect with the workers.

The importance of training was also discussed in great detail. Smith went into detail about how training can help create a career in construction, aiding with retention and loyalty. Training is a privilege that extends to every day in the field. Training also demonstrates a commitment to your employees, and training certificates are tangible assets that showcase what they have achieved. Smith discussed how the AC478 program helps companies set up minimum training and timelines for their employees.

Role of Manufacturers

Manufacturers can provide assistance to the general contractors and builders by offering training programs and even helping with recruitment. In the panel discussion, Miller shared how important grassroots campaigns are for attracting new employees. His company has a website that contractors can use to help get people interested in a career in construction. He also shared how many manufacturers have training programs that help ensure workers are installing products correctly.

One of the afternoon sessions took a look at what else manufacturers and suppliers can do to help solve the skilled labor shortage. In addition to some of what was discussed earlier in the day, Seyler recapped the session by suggesting the importance of engaging with the industry associations to help promote the career options within the construction industry. This includes going to schools, attending local tradeshows and bringing students in to learn more about construction.

In this section, Metal Construction News takes a closer look at the different aspects of the labor shortage. In "An Industry in Crisis," we take a look at how the shortage of labor is causing delayed projects, with skilled trades being hit the hardest. In "Finding Workers," we take a look at tips on how to attract the best employees. These include way contractors can use social media, word of mouth and employee referrals to find willing and able workers. Wrapping up the Special Report, "The New Workforce," looks at how contractors can work with multigenerational and multinational workers. Discover how working together and training employees allow companies to compete better in the industry.