These are odd times for the construction industry as opposing forces collide. Headwinds are buffeting the industry with rising material and labor costs, still-choked supply chains and higher interest rates.  Tailwinds in the form of $550 billion in new infrastructure spending over the next five  years are fueling industry growth. The conflicting forces can make for a bumpy ride, but the primary challenge for many firms will remain finding enough skilled talent to acquire and complete projects.

According to the most recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index report, 62 percent of commercial construction contractors are finding it difficult to find skilled workers, up 20 points over the prior year. About 56  percent of contractors reported a high degree of concern about their workers having adequate skill levels, again up 20 points year-over-year.

Here are eight ideas you should consider when talent shortages affect your ability to complete assignments or chase new business opportunities.

1. use a partner that specializes in finding construction engineers/workers

Given the current imbalance in supply and demand for construction talent, it’s easy to spend a lot of your staff’s time (and budget) trying to source, attract and retain skilled workers. If you haven’t used an engineering recruiting firm to help, this might be the time to do so. Being able to connect with talent across the country – or internationally – can be a big plus. There are skilled individuals around the globe able to fulfill roles that don’t require a registered engineer. Some of these include drafting, project management, model development, etc. Having an experienced partner to guide your efforts can be an effective approach to addressing engineering staffing shortages.

2. enhance project performance by using analytics

By applying advanced analytics, managers gain insights allowing them to more effectively streamline and control jobsite productivity, reduce risks and increase safety and improve their accuracy when bidding for new work. One recent survey of architecture, engineering and construction firms found that 29 percent of respondent firms were using predictive analytics and another 60 percent  are planning to use such a tool within two years. About 77 percent of respondents have had a formal data strategy for more than three years.

One emerging trend in the U.S. construction industry is the widespread embrace of connected construction technologies. Project participants (i.e., engineering firms, owners, contractors, etc.) use a single platform offering visibility into workflows, manpower, asset utilization, etc. thereby further enhancing project communication and efficiencies. Harnessing the power of analytics can have far-reaching positive effects on your bottom line.

3. consider temporary and/or contract workers

Many engineering and construction firms have long relied on temporary or contract workers to fill slots when the need for certain skills was short or uncertain. The workplace has changed in the past few years making using temporary and contract workers a more desirable and feasible alternative to hiring full-time employees. Unemployment rates in construction remain low with the October 2022 industry rate at 4.1 percent and the rate for architecture and engineering occupations at 1.4 percent. Contingent workers now make up between 25 percent  to 30 percent of the U.S. workforce and that percentage is expected to grow. Many highly skilled and experienced engineers and other construction industry workers have chosen to join the temporary and contract-basis workforce.

4. outsourcing can be quick – and profitable

When time is short, outsourcing can be quick – especially if you have an outsourcing partner. The benefits of outsourcing often make it an attractive choice. Here are some of the most compelling:

  • It can reduce costs from labor, office space, equipment acquisition, etc.
  • Allows you to acquire skills, work experience and build a knowledge base that might help sell future projects.
  • You maintain operational control and better manage risks.
  • Access to specialized skills and experience that might otherwise be difficult to acquire.
  • Frees your personnel to focus on their core activities/capabilities.
  • No commitment for long-term work that might prove unsustainable.
  • Access to technology that might be unaffordable or that requires specialized knowledge.

Now is the time to identify potential outsourcing partners.

5. assess Robotic Process Automation (RPA) applications

You might be surprised by how much value implementing RPA can offer. RPA tools that automate manual processes have proven their value in the construction/engineering industry. Using software “robots” to do such repetitive tasks as document management; invoice processing; cost monitoring; extracting, inserting and analyzing data; etc., frees your staff to spend their time on higher-value activities. In addition to relieving employees of tiresome, repetitive tasks, RPA can reduce costs, increase productivity, enhance operational flexibility, and reduce errors and rework.

6. manual task administration outsourcing can offer substantial savings

Have you ever added the costs of keeping manual administration tasks in-house? What you’re spending on keeping functions such as payroll, HR/recruitment, computer hardware management/maintenance, travel management, data entry/cleanup, accounting, and other back office manual administrative tasks can be eye-opening. In 2019 the accounting firm Ernst & Young performed a landmark study on what companies were spending on HR tasks. One finding that was across 41 tasks, the average cost per data entry was $4.51.  In 2021 they updated that cost to $4.70. A Goldman Sachs study found that SMBs pay, on average, $16 to $22 to manually process an invoice. Taking the time to compare these expenses to the cost of outsourcing and offloading non-core tasks could result in large savings.

7. automation could enhance productivity and unlock competitive advantages

Automation in the construction industry offers organizations of all sizes opportunities to streamline their operations and help reduce labor costs. A wide array of manual processes covering back office and field activities can be automated. Some of these include –

  • Document-centric workflow to organize and manage engineering change orders, RFIs, etc.
  • Building information modeling (BIM) to consolidate information throughout the project lifecycle offering insights to improve efficiency and address potential obstacles before they create problems
  • Production of construction components using 3-D printing
  • Use of sensors in field equipment and vehicles allowing remote monitoring and maintenance.

Automation can shorten project timeframes and reduce costs offering advantages over competitors tied to labor-intensive manual processes.

8. a workforce plan can give you a head start in filling skills gaps

The sooner you understand the skills your workforce possesses – and those you’ll soon need but lack - the more able you are to start filling those gaps. Workforce planning offers a blueprint for you to have people with the skills you need when you need them. It gives you insight into deciding whether to fill your skills gaps by bringing skills from outside the organization (hiring/contracting/outsourcing) or building them through training existing staff.

At a minimum, a workforce plan should -

  • Link to the goals of the organization’s broader strategic plan
  • Analyze the workforce to understand current skill levels and anticipated gaps
  • Create a plan to fill skills gaps with methods and measures to assess progress
  • Implement and manage programs identified in the plan
  • Assess and revise the plan as progress and changing conditions warrant

Workforce planning works. A recent survey on workforce planning found that almost six in ten organizations can identify skills gaps and surpluses with enough lead time to build, borrow or “buy” the talent they need. Two-thirds of organizations indicated that they get the desired results from their workforce plans to a great/extreme extent.

Randstad Engineering can help you find the talent to get the work done

Regardless of your approach – full-time hire, contract, or outsourced project – we have the resources and global network to help you overcome workforce obstacles. Need help fashioning a training program? How about implementing RPA or other automation? Need another set of eyes on your workforce plan? Let’s talk about how we can help.