This is a difficult column to write at this moment because so much remains uncertain and situations change daily. It is too early to assess where we will end up after we travel this pandemic road, but I think some broad considerations are in order.
While it pains me to say it, a slowdown in construction seems likely this summer. The spring was exceptionally strong for our industry and we are operating today on a backlog of projects that will dissipate as the summer arrives. Industry experts I’ve talked with are worried about their future pipeline. If a slowdown occurs, it may not affect all segments of the industry equally. For example, if Congress in its COVID-19 IV infusion package includes substantial infrastructure funding, as is now being considered, that segment of our industry will fare better.
But we will recover and here’s what’s undeniably true: The workforce shortage we’ve been facing remains. It’s a matter of simple demographics – many are retiring (which may be accelerated by our current crisis) and too few are entering. As we come out of this, the demographics don’t change – we have too few people to fill the construction jobs of our future.
Encouragingly, we may be able to attract to our industry some of those who were laid off from other positions. We pay well in construction. We have great pride in what we do – we can drive by a building, an apartment complex, a house and say “I built that.” Researcher Daniel Pink in his book “Drive” writes about the three keys to motivation – Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. We provide all three in our industry. Those who work in construction have a tremendous amount of autonomy, clearly become masters of their trade and are passionate about building.
When we began Project Build Minnesota, we noted the importance of keeping a steady stream of marketing with regard to our industry. During the last crash, construction as an industry stopped reaching out to prospective employees. That was a mistake and as the market recovered we found ourselves woefully short of employees. We cannot make that mistake again. It’s vital that all of us as industry leaders continue to reach out to today’s young people, their parents, counselors and influencers to share the great story of construction careers.
Thank you for our support of Project Build Minnesota. Now as much as ever we continue with our mission of making construction attractive to Minnesota’s hard-working youth and others in need of a tremendous career opportunity.