Attract/Maintain Skilled Workforce

RT-135 Topic Summary
RT 135


The construction industry is challenged with attracting and retaining qualified workers. Of contractors surveyed for this research, 70% are experiencing shortages of workers nationwide, with some locations reporting turnovers of 400%. Therefore, a work force has turned over four times through the life of a project.

Owners and contractors can benefit by having a qualified and motivated work force assigned to their projects. Lower total installed cost can be realized by having motivated workers who can assist in reducing project schedule and improving quality. Project safety can also be improved by lower worker turnover and higher skill levels. However, owners are always looking for ways to lower cost and speed up schedules, which sometimes impact costs associated with training and wages. Craft workers feel they are treated as a commodity that can be easily replaced. They want to be recognized, rewarded, and respected for their performance, but there is a lack of vertical and lateral career development for them in an organization.

The construction industry has a poor image overall. With youths, they perceive the industry as making important contributions to society by creating shelter, highways, and jobs, but the construction worker is associated with dirt, sweat, obscenities, loafing, and low prestige. For non-college bound youth, careers in the military or law enforcement are seen as respectable careers while working in the construction crafts is seen merely as a way to get a paycheck. For older workers, safety concerns arise as construction work is physically demanding so they retire early or leave the industry.

The objectives of the research team’s study were to define the role that owner and contractor companies play, by identifying methods to:

  1. Attract workers to the construction industry
  2. Retain workers in the construction industry
  3. The benefits of successful retention programs

Alignment between owner, contractor, and craft worker needs to be established in order to attract and maintain a skilled workforce overall. Looking for innovative ways to compensate workers will be a solution to this problem.

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Wages and Benefits

The construction industry is losing skilled workers to the manufacturing industry due to higher wages, better benefits, and a greater sense of job security. (RS135-1, p. 2)
Reference: (RS135-1)

2 : Rate of Retention

Thirty percent of contractor companies monitor Rate of Retention (ROR) on a company-wide basis. Of those contractors that perform company-wide monitoring, the average ROR is 70%. Successful companies with a ROR of 80% or greater utilized some retention activities to attract and retain workers while paying competitive wages and benefits, providing a safe work place and good working conditions, and creating permanent job opportunities. (RS135-1, p. 5)
Reference: (RS135-1)

3 : Recruit & Retain Programs

Sixty percent of the surveyed companies have formal recruiting and hiring programs to find qualified workers. Most of those that do not have programs utilize union workers. Likewise, all surveyed companies felt that a formal and documented program to retain workers is important, but only about 40% actually had one. (RS135-1, p. 7)
Reference: (RS135-1)

4 : Training

Craft training program expenditures typically take a back seat to other costs and are usually the first to be cut in the budgeting process. Training must be given a higher priority as it is vital in upgrading skill levels of the workers and safety. Safety performance is negatively affected as most accidents involve new hires due to their unfamiliarity with site conditions; therefore, keeping turnover low can improve safety performance. (RS135-1, p. 12)
Reference: (RS135-1)

5 : Craft Workers

Union workers felt safety was more important than benefits. Benefits were more important to the older workers. Craft workers leave the industry for the following reasons (in order of importance): (RS135-1, p. 9)

  1. Poor pay and benefits
  2. Need for a permanent job
  3. Poor safety
  4. Poor treatment
  5. Poor working conditions

While contractors use improved job safety to attract and retain employees, the workers themselves felt that safety, or lack of it, is one of the main reasons they leave.

Reference: (RS135-1)

6 : Construction Industy Image

In a survey of high school students for desirable career choices, construction worker was ranked 248 out of 250. Young people viewed construction trades as dangerous, dirty, non-technical, and unprofessional. Influence from their parents discouraging them because it’s not a respectful career, and guidance counselors presenting the industry in a negative light. A 1992 CII study found tradespersons typically leave craft work at age 36, creating another insufficiency as the average age of the national labor force continues to rise beyond 39 years of age. 70% of craft workers who responded to a survey said they would not encourage their children to enter a construction trade as a career. (RS135-1, p. 1)
Reference: (RS135-1)

7 : Implementation Tool #1

RS135-1, Activities to Attract and Retain Construction Craft Workers

Examples of key activities to attact employees include: (RS135-1, Appendix A, p. 16)
  1. Recruit at trade schools, high schools, and community colleges
  2. Pursue reduction in force (RIF) employees to keep them working
  3. Work with other contractors for hiring
  4. Recruit outside of project locations
  5. Have formal written tests and performance tests as a mechanism to hire qualified workers
Examples of key activities to retain workers include:
  1. Conduct a needs assessment to train workers on a continuous basis
  2. Conduct supervisory human relations training
  3. Tie documented wage progression to skills
  4. Give long-term preferential treatment to tenured employees
  5. Inform employees of project progression
  6. Emphasize the community side of construction
Reference: (RS135-1)

8 : Implementation Tool #2

RS135-1, Contractor Field Personnel Pre-Qualification Checklist

This checklist is to be used to pre-qualify construction contracctors for stffing of projects. The objective is for owner companies to pre-qualify contractors on their abiity to retain craft workers on projects. (RS135-1, Appendix B, p. 21)

A few examples of items on the checklist include:
  1. ROR for the last few projects
  2. Journeymen certification and craft level assessment process
  3. Activities employed in attraction and retention programs
  4. Craft training programs for the specific project and history of training programs
  5. Benefit programs for crafts
  6. Wage survey data and basis
  7. Craft worker career development process
Reference: (RS135-1)

Key Performance Indicators

Improved rate of retention (ROR), Improved cost, Improved safety, Improved productivity

Research Publications

Attracting and Maintaining a Skilled Construction Work Force - RS135-1

Publication Date: 10/2000 Type: Research Summary Pages: 30 Status: Tool

Attracting and Maintaining A Skilled Workforce - RR135-11

Publication Date: 05/1999 Type: Research Report Pages: 228 Status: Reference

Presentations from CII Events

Session - Maintaining Skilled Construction Workers

Publication Date: 07/1998 Presenter: Number of Slides: 23 Event Code: AC98