New Survey Shows Significant Flaws in Nation’s Approach to Preparing Workers for Construction Careers

Few candidates have the basic skills needed to work in high-paying construction careers, forcing short-staffed contractors to find new ways to keep pace with demand and undermining efforts to build infrastructure and other projects, according to the results of a workforce survey conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America and Autodesk.

The results highlight significant shortcomings in the nation’s approach to preparing workers for careers in construction.

“The biggest takeaway from this year’s Workforce Survey is how much the nation is failing to prepare future workers for high-paying careers in fields like construction,” says Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “It is time to rethink the way the nation educates and prepares workers.”

Simonson notes that 85% of construction firms report they have open positions they are trying to fill. Among those firms, 88% are having trouble filling at least some of those positions—particularly among the craft workforce that performs the bulk of onsite construction work.

All types of firms are experiencing these challenges. Largely similar results were reported by contractors that use exclusively union craft labor and by firms that operate as open-shop employers; by firms with $50 million or less in annual revenue and ones with more than $500 million in revenue; by companies in all four regions of the country; and by contractors doing building construction, highway and transportation projects, federal and heavy work, or utility infrastructure.

One of the main reasons labor shortages are so severe, Simonson adds, is that most job candidates are not qualified to work in the industry. He said a “shocking” 68% of firms report applicants lack the skills needed to work in construction. In addition, one-third of firms report candidates cannot pass a drug test.

Workforce shortages are adding to the impacts of supply chain disruptions that have made it difficult for firms to get materials delivered on time and that are driving up the cost of those materials. While these shortages have recently shown signs of abating, 65% of firms report projects they work on have been delayed because of supply challenges and 61% have been delayed because of labor shortages.

Supply chain problems and labor shortages are making construction more expensive, undermining demand for certain types of projects, the economist noted. Half the respondents report owners canceled, postponed or scaled back projects due to increasing costs. Meanwhile, 22% of firms report projects were impacted due to lengthening or uncertain completion times.

Many construction firms are taking steps to cope with and try to overcome workforce shortages. Eighty-one percent of firms have raised base pay rates for their workers during the past year. In addition to raising pay, 44% are providing incentives and bonuses and 26% have also improved their benefits packages.

Firms are also getting more creative when it comes to recruiting workers. Sixty-three percent of survey respondents—up from 39% in the 2022 survey—report they added online strategies, like using social media or targeted digital advertising, to connect better with younger applicants. Click here to read more.

Like the construction industry, NGWA has recognized a workforce shortage in the water well industry and created Drilling Basics Online to meet the need for more and better-trained employees.

Click here to learn more about Drilling Basics Online, a digital online learning platform created in collaboration with Oklahoma State University to increase safety and skills in water well contracting and groundwater science.