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August 27, 2019


In recent years, there has been discussion about the skilled labor shortage in the construction industry. The labor shortage has resulted in construction costs being driven up and development being slowed down. However, a skilled labor shortage may not be the only problem. It is likely a symptom of a larger underlying employee retention problem. Efforts are typically focused toward hiring workers to quickly fill open positions. In order to end the constant hiring cycle, focus needs to be shifted from hiring new employees to retaining existing ones. 

Boost employee retention:

Before jumping to hire additional workers, follow these strategies to ensure that hired employees will stay around for the long haul.

  • Grow leadership skills – Quality leadership has a significant impact on employee engagement and retention.
  • Empower your people – Avoid micromanaging your people and delegate instead. This strategy shows that you trust your people and their abilities.
  • Focus on culture – As a leader, take the opportunity to create a team environment where everyone works together toward a common goal. Make it somewhere that people want to spend their time and career.

Increase productivity:

Focus on processes and productivity, instead of searching for more skilled labor. The term “load shedding” is an electrical term that refers to the purposeful diverting of the load in part of a system to prevent failure when the demand strains the system’s capacity. In order to prevent failure of an entire system, work has to be redistributed from more skilled workers to less skilled, newer workers. Consider these steps below:

  • Investigating – Talk with key team members to determine the tasks they consistently spend time on that does not require their skill level. 
  • Eliminating – Get rid of tasks that people are spending time on that don’t actually need to be done.
  • Automating – Seek out available technology to streamline any repetitive and time consuming tasks.
  • Delegating – As mentioned previously, delegating tasks helps empower people and boost employee morale. In order to determine which tasks to delegate, first look for duties that cannot be eliminated or automated. Consider bundling the remaining duties and hire someone to be responsible for them.


Employers need to recognize that not all skilled workers are very skilled. Hiring less skilled workers and holding them to the same production standards as highly skilled workers, only sets up these less skilled workers for failure. More time needs to be spent to slow down and train the less skilled workers. Although there is a short term hit to productivity, it needs to be recognized that taking the time to teach the new workers, will help productivity and employee retention in the long run. 

There is undeniably a labor shortage in the construction industry, but constantly hiring is not going to end it. In order to change the skilled labor outlook, the root of the problem; retention, productivity, and organizational design have to be addressed.

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