Turner exec testifies to Congress on skills gap, labor shortage in construction

Article written by Kim Slowey, ConstructionDive, March 30, 2017

Dive Brief:

  • A Turner Construction Company executive testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee along with other executives in the construction and manufacturing industries on Wednesday, giving lawmakers a full picture of the staffing and skills challenges that the industry faces.
  • Rory DeJohn, a senior vice president at Turner, told the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that current construction activity is on par with that of 2007, yet there are 100,000 fewer workers. Younger people aren’t choosing careers in the industry, despite competitive salaries, and older workers are aging out.
  • DeJohn also addressed the lack of students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs and said there are currently only 58,000 people working toward a civil engineering degree, which is the same number as in 2011. Since then, he said, the volume of construction activity has increased by 50%.

Dive Insight:

DeJohn echoed what organizations have been warning about for years — there aren’t enough qualified workers to meet the construction industry's needs. He told the committee that STEM education must be encouraged and said that community and youth initiatives would boost minority and female participation in STEM programs as well.

For the construction industry's skilled-labor side, DeJohn said companies need to boost their technology game to make the construction work environment more attractive. He also said the industry needs to engage with industry associations to develop training programs that will interest millennials and high school students. Veterans, he said, should also be encouraged to look toward the construction industry for a post-military career.

In a recent survey, the Associated General Contractors of America found that 73% of firms expect to increase staffing this year as demand increases. However, 73% also responded that they were having difficulty finding enough qualified employees. In addition, 76% of contractors surveyed said they expected the labor market to only tighten through the remainder of 2017.

The AGC continues to tout its Workforce Development Plan — which calls for increased government spending for career and technical programs.