Addressing Shortage of Skilled Craft Workers in the U.S.

RT-182 Topic Summary
RT 182


The construction industry’s skilled worker pool continues to shrink. The decreasing number of young people entering the work force and the failure to recruit from non-traditional labor pools both contribute to this troublesome trend. Over the past 30 years, real wages of construction workers have declined relative to those of other workers. Poor industry image, tough working conditions, and the industry’s perceived poor safety record also have contributed to the decline in the number of people willing to enter and remain in the industry. 

There is a need for a structured workforce management strategy that can be used to effectively manage a workforce regardless of its skill level. The construction industry has experienced a shortage of skilled craft workers and will continue to experience the shortage unless revolutionary methods are put in place to address the problem. 

RT-182 research presents a Tier I strategy, an implementation of industry accepted best practices to improve the management and utilization of the work force. It is important to note that the focus for Tier I is on the management and supervision of the work force on a project. The Tier I Strategy is one solution and there are other solutions that have been explored in other research. Employers and construction practitioners need to be able to begin to implement some aspects of those strategies to produce results that can be measured today. 

The Tier I Strategy is proposed as a way to increase productivity and more effectively utilize and manage the workforce on a project to produce almost immediate measurable benefits on that project. It is not a revolutionary strategy in itself, but the concepts and elements of the strategy will serve as building blocks for more complex and extensive structured workforce development programs in the construction industry. 

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Defining Tier 1 and Tier 2

The table compares the basic configuration of Tier 1 vs. Tier 2 workforce strategies and is the baseline for understanding the distinct differences between Tier 1 and Tier 2 requirements. (RS182-1, p. 4, Table 1)
Reference: (RS182-1)

2 : Two Divergent Workforces

The construction work force can be characterized as two divergent work forces: one that is satisfied with the work and is willing to participate and improve skill levels; and a second that is transient, unsatisfied, and will quickly leave the industry when other opportunities arise. These two work forces have vastly different characteristics and need to be managed accordingly, thus there is a need for two different work force management strategies. (RS182-1, p. vi) 
Reference: (RS182-1)

3 : Lack and Inconsistency of Training

This research supports the industry image that workers receive little of no formal training. Over 76% of the workforce surveyed indicated that the received less than 25 hours of training per year. (RR182-11, p. 54)
Reference: (RR182-11)

4 : Lack of Diversity

The construction work force is not as diverse as the population as a whole and the industry is failing to utilize or attract workers such as women and minorities from non-traditional labor pools. (RS182-1, p. 10)
Reference: (RS182-1)

5 : Two-Tier Workforce Success

The long-term results of the Strategy Driven (Tier 1 or Tier 2) Workforce Management Strategies involve improving the overall effectiveness of workforce management on a project to the point that it leads to overall improvement in the success of the project. The hypothesized results are shown in Figure below, the Construction Phase Success Index. The Tier I and Tier II Indices are located on the horizontal axis. The conceptual “Success Index” is located on the vertical access. (RS182-1, p. 5)
Reference: (RS182-1)

6 : Implementation Tool #1

RR182-11, Basic Implementation Guidelines

Outlines the basic implementation concepts that should help industry practitioners develop an understanding of the Tier 1 strategy. The guidelines include these 5 stages: (RR182-11, p. 91)

  • Stage 1 – Clarification
  • Stage 2 – Assessment
  • Stage 3 – Design
  • Stage 4 – Implementation
  • Stage 5 – Monitoring
Reference: (RR182-11)

Key Performance Indicators

Improved craft productivity, Improved benefit-cost ratio (BCR), Improved return on investment (ROI)

Research Publications

The Tier I Workforce Management Strategy: Concept and Application - RR182-11

Publication Date: 12/2003 Type: Research Report Pages: 153 Status: Tool

The Shortage of Skilled Craft Workers in the U.S. - RS182-1

Publication Date: 09/2003 Type: Research Summary Pages: 36 Status: Supporting Product

Presentations from CII Events

Session - Skilled Craft Worker Shortage Strategies

Publication Date: 06/2003 Presenter: Number of Slides: 22 Event Code: AC03