We've all heard the sobering statistics about the looming labor shortage predicted for the construction industry — as baby boomers leave the ranks of executive management and the gap of young people entering the profession continues to widen.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that employment in the construction industry will grow at an average 11.4% between 2004 and 2014, creating close to a million new jobs. According to FMI, a management consulting and investment banking firm headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., despite the projected need for more workers, the primary working age group (those between the ages of 25 and 54 years old) is projected to decline, resulting in approximately three million fewer employees in this age range alone. With the reduction in available workers and the improving job market, FMI maintains that many organizations will not only find themselves losing their stars to competitors, but may also have a difficult time replacing this talent. Given this warning, the question is, what are electrical contractors doing to prepare?

According to FMI's “2007 U.S. Construction Industry Talent Development Report,” which surveyed a host of different construction industry professionals, including general contractors (48%), heavy/highway/utility contractors (17%), and electrical contractors (7%), most respondents already understand the urgency for talent development now as well as the challenges they face for successfully attracting, recruiting, training, and retaining personnel in the future (see chart).

When asked in the survey how organizations were preparing for the changing workforce, respondents indicated they were:

  • Increasing recruiting efforts at schools, colleges, and universities (87%).

  • Training to improve performance in specific competencies (84%).

  • Promoting internally to key positions (82%).

  • Providing internships or co-op programs (78%).

  • Identifying current gaps in core competencies (56%).

  • Employing “best practices” to retain key talent (53%).

  • Establishing core competencies by position (53%).

  • Recruiting in non-traditional labor pools (51%).

Approximately one-third or less of those surveyed, however, acknowledged that they were currently projecting competencies needed in their businesses in the next five to 10 years (35%), poaching employees from other firms (20%), or offering phased retirement (16%) as they prepare for a changing workforce.

Given what seems to be an impending employment crisis on the horizon, is it possible to create a corporate culture where talent is actively sought after, engaged, and retained? That is the key question contractors must ask themselves as the construction industry continues to grow while the workforce declines.