Just how tight is the construction labor market as we enter 2020? With unemployment at its lowest rate since 1969 and construction backlogs averaging nearly nine months, it’s not surprising the demand for all types of construction workers has held steady—from craft workers to estimators and project managers.

Despite a tight labor market, overall construction employment increased nationally and in 38 states in November, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, employment increased year-over-year by 145,000 jobs nationally. With construction employment growing steadily year-over-year, hourly craft worker positions are still difficult to fill, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.

Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist, explained: “Employers in most areas remain busy and eager to hire workers, but they struggle to find qualified employees in many metros.”

States with the lowest estimated construction unemployment rates in November were Utah (1.6%), Oregon (2.4%), South Caroline (2.5%), and Colorado, Florida, and South Dakota (tie: 2.6%).

Is Labor Shortage Intensifying?

It should come as no surprise that the 2020 FMI Industry Report found that 57% of construction leaders listed “attracting and retaining skilled labor” as their No. 2 concern for future success. When asked their top three concerns, hiring came in just below maintaining jobsite safety (66%) and right above maintaining field productivity (52%).

These concerns about the lingering labor shortage come at a pivotal point. There is a big push around finding new ways to attract younger workers—from innovative trade-specific training programs to increased visibility into lucrative construction careers. There is also the impact of Silicon Valley pouring billions into new tech that could potentially streamline how construction projects are planned, designed, and built.

Meanwhile, the McKinsey Global Institute has found that builders’ productivity growth worldwide has averaged only 1% per year over the past two decades, compared to a 3.6% growth in the manufacturing sector. In fact, construction productivity in the U.S. has dropped by half since the late 1960s. As such, the FMI study paints a bleak picture of what is ahead in 2020 with productivity stagnating, the labor shortage intensifying, and the cost of both materials and labor rising.

Investing in Construction Tech Could Help

With a smaller labor pool, construction businesses that invest in construction technology and tools will likely have an easier time attracting top talent—such as in-demand estimators and project managers. Plus, contractors who invest in tech will also be able to use it to more efficiently plan and execute projects.

While the FMI Report found that more than half—51.4%—are using technology to maintain a safe jobsite, only 25.6% are using technology to attract and maintain skilled labor. It is interesting that less than half—40.5%— of those surveyed are using technology to maximize field productivity.

It is interesting to note that the FMI Report concluded that many construction leaders appear unaware of the viable tech solutions now available. The report found this could be a missed opportunity when it comes to productivity and using tech to attract and retain workers.

Clearly, there are gaps in how construction leaders view and implement how technology is used in the field and in the back office. Study after study has found most construction firms—up to 90%— are worried about the lingering talent shortage.

Construction Estimators in High Demand

Demand for all construction positions—from dirty jobs in the field to tech-focused office positions—is growing. This includes construction estimators, who play an essential role in the construction industry. Most estimators wear many hats—from finding projects to bid to making sure time, labor, and materials are counted correctly. An estimator’s speed and accuracy can have a big impact on whether a construction business wins the most profitable projects.

It appears the demand for great estimators isn’t slowing down anytime soon. In fact, Projections Central reports more than 24,000 cost estimator job openings in the U.S. By 2026, they predict a need for 240,800 estimators, an increase of 10% over the current number.

As a result, estimator salaries are rising. Indeed.com ranked construction estimator as No. 12 on its Top 25 Jobs List for 2018 and as No. 19 in 2019. Base salaries, they said, rose nearly 9% from 2018 to 2019—from an average of $78,052 in 2018 to $84,963 in 2019.

Using Tech to Attract Talent  

Faced with a tight labor supply and strong competition, how can construction firms get ahead of the hiring game? The FMI Report found 47% of survey respondents believe that having a technology partner and tech tools has a positive impact on talent acquisition and retention.

Even more—62%—believe technology increases employee engagement and job satisfaction.

Perhaps the most compelling finding was that 68% believe having a tech partner can have a major impact in sustaining superior financial performance.

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