Infrastructure Rebuilding and the Labor Shortage
The US infrastructure is in dire need of upgrading. Highways, bridges, and sewer systems across the country are showing signs of wear and tear, in some instances even crumbling. The estimated cost of critical infrastructure improvements exceeds $1 trillion. In February 2018, the Trump administration proposed a $200 billion infrastructure plan as a starting point.
In October 2018, bipartisan water infrastructure legislation passed, directing the Army Corps of Engineers to accelerate dredging projects. The legislation also authorizes 12 water resources projects around the country and in Puerto Rico that will upgrade ports, inland waterways, and flood protection systems, among other improvements.
Some infrastructure projects are rolling and many others are in the works. The specific projects, timelines and funding sources are still being hashed out. Beyond determining the details, there’s no arguing the need for infrastructure improvements now and over the next several decades. As these infrastructure projects inevitably ramp up, companies are faced with another big hurdle—the US labor shortage.
What Is Causing the Skilled Labor Shortage?
Many factors are causing the current skilled labor shortage. Among them are that the US has bordered on full employment for several years. This means most workers who want to work have jobs, and those graduating from college can usually find work quickly. Other contributing factors are the wave of baby boomer retirements and the fast-rising need for specialized skills, such as tech, across industries. Not enough people are being trained yet for the number of positions opening. Finally, a decades-long negative perception of skilled trades jobs has led to a drop in programs and low engagement that is just beginning to turn around. Many experts say it’s more accurate to describe it as a skills shortage, rather than a labor shortage. Either way, the result is companies struggling to fill business-critical positions.
Why Is the Labor Shortage Impacting Infrastructure?
Most industries are feeling the impact of the labor shortage to a degree, but some are impacted more than others. There are well-known talent shortfalls within the tech, construction, and manufacturing industries. All of these industries play a crucial role in creating a modern infrastructure, which includes wind turbines, solar power, the electric grid, and internet hardware in addition to highways, airports, railways, seaports, and sewage and water systems.
Is There a Fix for the Infrastructure Labor Shortage?
The tide is showing promising signs of turning. Career and technical education and apprenticeships are in the midst of a renaissance. The hands on learning approaches now include a deep tech focus, that acknowledges the incorporation of technology in every industry. President Barack Obama hosted the inaugural White House Summit on American Apprenticeships in 2014, and the Trump Administration expanded funding for career and technical education and apprenticeship programs in 2017. Businesses in professional, skilled trades, and blue collar industries are eagerly participating in these programs as a way to build a talent pipeline for the future.
Recruiting During a Skilled Labor Shortage
For at least the near future, companies contracted for infrastructure projects can expect a talent crunch. So how do you attract the skilled labor you need? Some key steps and strategies include:
Focus On Your Leadership Team
Good managers are a critical, sometimes overlooked part of retaining skilled talent. Strong managers are clear about job expectations, timelines, and upcoming projects. They offer support and guidance when needed, while ensuring their employees take ownership of their contributions. Poor managers, on the other hand, are unclear in their expectations and don’t step in when employees are struggling, slacking, or disengaged. Worse still, some bad bosses are mean spirited and difficult. A tell-tale sign of a poor manager is chronic low employee retention rates compared with other managers.
Investing in leadership development and coaching helps managers stay focused on giving their direct reports the tools and support they need for success.
Strengthen Your Employer Brand
Your employer brand is always an important part of your recruitment strategy, but especially so during a labor shortage. Your employer brand is the reason people choose your company over another. What does your company offer that is unique? Pay and benefits are all important to job seekers. But other things matter to talent as well. Does your organization offer paid days off for volunteer work? Do you hold regular training that advances employees’ capabilities? Are there clear opportunities for advancement? What about flexible schedules?
Your company culture is also part of your employer brand. Does your culture value collaboration? Is your office bustling or library quiet? Is your management structure flat or hierarchical? Are people expected to stay late frequently? How are they appreciated when they do?
A robust, authentic employer brand attracts job seekers. And when you’re crystal clear about your brand and your culture, you stand a better chance of drawing people who are a good fit for your organization, which helps minimize bad hires and improve workforce engagement and retention.
Get Creative with Talent Recruitment
Job board postings alone aren’t enough to build the skilled workforce your company needs. Other valuable venues and strategies for reaching talent are:
- Employee referrals. Ask strong employees to refer skilled friends and family members. Companies often recruit top notch people through referrals because employees feel a sense of responsibility for their recommendations, and don’t suggest just anyone.
- Social media. Post open positions on your company’s social media channels. Many companies are now using geofencing, which sends job advertisements to people in a specific geographic area. A large construction company, for example, can post jobs targeted only to candidates within a reasonable commuting distance from particular worksites.
- Job fairs. Career and job fairs at high schools, colleges, and trade schools are smart places to develop interest in your company by sharing your employer brand and any current job openings.
Offer Apprenticeships and Skills Training
Research and participate in career and technical education programs in your region, or partner with a local high school, trade school, or college to create your own program. You can also establish an apprenticeship program, or expand your existing program. Participation in these programs will let you see the work, commitment, and potential of scores of people just entering the workforce, at the same time they get an insider’s experience of working for your company. Beyond the students and apprentices you work with directly, your involvement can give your company exposure among all the students at these high schools and colleges through career fairs and workshops.
Offer Competitive Compensation and Benefits
Imagine an employee of a retail store ordering a coffee and croissant and chatting with an employee of the cafe down the street. In the conversation, the retail employee shares how much she’s making per hour and it’s significantly higher than the cafe pays. How long before the cafe employee is submitting her resume to the retail store? Odds are—soon after their conversation. Word gets around about the pay and benefits various companies offer, and with the prevalence of social media, it gets around fast. It’s crucial that your organization’s compensation and benefits are competitive with similar companies in your industry and region.
The above strategies will position your company as an employer of choice for skilled talent, improving your chances of having the employees you need for ongoing or new infrastructure projects.