A national contractors’ survey conducted by the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America and Autodesk suggests that Illinois has a much less pressing construction labor shortage than much of the rest of the country.
While the AGC data indicates that nationally 80 percent of construction firms report they are having a hard time filling hourly craft positions that represent the bulk of the construction workforce, the number is only 48 percent in Illinois. Contrary to other states and regions, the greater difficulty is in finding qualified salaried positions, with 58 percent of contractors reporting problems.
The survey sample size in Illinois is small, with just 31 responses, and it is conceivable that in Illinois’ heavily unionized environment, contractors are facing little stress by simply calling on the hiring halls for additional workers where required. (Some 55 percent of respondents said the used “unions” to meet their hiring requirements.)
Speaking of the national results, AGG chief executive officer Stephen Sandherr said: “Workforce shortages remain one of the single most significant threats to the construction industry. However, construction labor shortages are a challenge that can be fixed, and this association will continue to do everything in its power to make sure that happens.”
Of the nearly 2,000 survey respondents, 80 percent said they are having difficulty filling hourly craft positions, Sandherr said. All four regions of the country are experiencing similarly severe craft worker shortages, with 83 percent of contractors in the West and South reporting a hard time filling hourly craft positions, almost identical to the 81 percent rate in the Midwest and 75 percent rate in the Northeast.
Seventy-three percent of firms report it will continue to be hard, or get even harder, to find hourly craft workers over the next 12 months. One reason for their worries is that contractors are skeptical of the quality of the pipeline for recruiting and preparing new craft personnel. Forty-five percent say the local pipeline for preparing well-trained and skilled workers is poor. And 26 percent say the pipeline for finding workers who can pass a drug test is poor.
“Construction workforce shortages are prompting many firms to innovate their way to greater productivity,” said Allison Scott, head of construction integrated marketing at Autodesk. “As the cost of labor continues to increase and firms look to become even more efficient, technology can enable better collaboration and ultimately lead to more predictable outcomes. There is also opportunity in untapped pools of talent such as tradeswomen, veterans, and young people looking for an alternative to the traditional four-year university.”
Scott noted that 29 percent of firms report they are investing in technology to supplement worker duties. One-fourth of firms report they are using cutting-edge solutions, including drones, robots and 3-D printers. Meanwhile, 23 percent of firms report they are taking steps to improve jobsite performance by relying on lean construction techniques, using tools like Building Information Modeling and doing more off-site prefabrication.
Even as the industry works to address labor shortages, 44 percent of firms report they are increasing construction prices and 29 percent are putting longer completion times into their bids for new work because of the lack of workers, putting future development and infrastructure projects at risk. Association officials called on the federal government to boost funding for career and technical education. They also called on federal leaders to allow more immigrants to enter the country to work in construction, let construction students at community and career colleges qualify for federal Pell Grants, and make it easier for firms to establish apprenticeship and other training programs.