Industry Highlight: Construction Projects Increase as Talent Pool Shrinks (Part 1)

West Michigan’s construction industry is growing, with many new projects underway or upcoming across the region. However, like most skilled trades, the industry is affected by a shortage of qualified talent. Norm Brady, Jen Schottke, and Aubrey Meikle from the Associated Builders and Contractors West Michigan Chapter (ABC/WMC) explain how their members are impacted by the labor shortage.


High Demand for Construction

“Just by looking at the cranes in the air in downtown Grand Rapids, if that’s kind of your smell test, things are good,” says President and CEO Norm Brady. Grand Rapids is not alone in the increase of projects in recent months; there is growth across all of West Michigan, and the state as a whole, as well.

While Brady is confident in construction’s future in West Michigan, he concedes that it can be difficult to predict. “We anticipate a really good 2018. Backlog remains strong, and the foreseeable six to nine months looks really great,” he explains, “but if you get beyond that, it’s difficult for a contractor to even tell you what it’s going to be even a year and a half from now.”

The labor shortage plays a big role in the unpredictability of many contractor’s schedules. “There can be a disconnect between owner and contractor in regards to our workforce realities,” explains Jen Schottke, Vice President of Workforce Development. “A recent comment I heard when a project extended past the scheduled completion date was that the owner community still hasn’t fully realized the impact the workforce shortage has had on construction schedules. Even when project schedules take into account the limited trade labor pool, the labor shortage is causing unpredictable changes in schedules and making it hard on owner and contractor relationships.”


Recruitment Efforts Shift

Overall, the tough competition for talent has forced the construction industry to innovate when it comes to recruitment. “Even if we’re just talking about skilled trades, name your industry and we’re all looking for the same people with the same skill sets,” Schottke explains. “It’s an interesting time when we really have to sell the industry, not just a career.”

Efforts such as social media campaigns to highlight a positive company culture and benefits targeted towards millennials’ needs are just some of the ways companies are trying to get more people interested in construction. Brady says that with the message of a positive career in construction communicated, the focus needs to shift to results, “into people who actually choose the trades as a career.”

Just as individual companies are making changes to interest more people in careers in construction, ABC/WMC is involved in several efforts as well. In our next blog, learn more about some of ABC/WMC’s projects to interest more students and minorities in the construction sector. 

This blog is Part 1 in our series of blogs on the construction industry. Part 2 is available to read here.

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