The Battle for Talent is Driving Change

24th May 2022

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Joe Cusick, CEO of Soben Americas, comments on the continuous struggle of attracting new talent to the construction industry…

Like healthcare, finance, manufacturing and cybersecurity, the construction sector is facing significant skills shortages. For expanding companies like Soben, that means battling every day to attract talent.

We are fighting in a landscape that is changing around us. The pandemic has altered perceptions of work-life balance and, with job opportunities plentiful, employees can call the shots on salaries, perks and working patterns. Throw advances in digital technologies into the mix, and it all adds up to a huge opportunity for change.

A wider net

Recent analysis shows that there were 415,000 vacancies in the US construction industry at the end of March 2022, up 20% compared to the same time last year. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will only exacerbate the problem, with an uplift in activity expected to boost demand for workers and professionals – at the same time as we are shedding Baby Boomers and attracting fewer people from overseas.

Shortages in any part of a project supply chain will increase the risk of cost and schedule overruns, which means that project controls must be tighter and more effective than ever. But, of course, there is a shortage of experienced professionals to administer those project controls.

This scarcity of talent is accelerating the take-up of technology. For us that means automating processes such as quantity take-offs, progress measurement and change validation. Artificial intelligence (AI) can be trained to spot emerging problems early and even to plot alternative program sequences to keep projects on schedule.

Increasing automation should enable those overseeing projects and programs to identify problem areas more swiftly so that they can deep dive and find solutions. With less focus on data gathering and more focus on data analysis and interpretation, project controls will require new skills sets. As well as training the professionals we have, this shift in approach offers an opportunity to cast the net wider, to bring in people with data management and analysis skills, or the aptitude to learn them.

It isn’t just individual roles that will evolve. The combination of advancing technology, and the need to make the most of the scarce professional resources we have, will lead to more collaborative working practices with the new contractual arrangements that this requires.

Unexpected benefits

Companies such as Microsoft and Deloitte are offering flexibility and hybrid working to attract a wider field of would-be employees. Construction must follow their lead. To retain the best in our sector, and to attract people from other industries and backgrounds, construction has to offer more than just good salaries.

Company culture is vital. If we want a more diverse workforce with more diverse ideas, boards must be connected to their employees and willing to listen and adapt accordingly. We must look at people’s individual professional aspirations; what sort of career progression would work for them and what mentoring, training and project opportunities would help them on their journey?

Our experiences during the pandemic have demonstrated that we can manage and monitor projects remotely. There has been exponential growth in the use of collaboration tools and platforms, increasing deployment of virtual and augmented reality in remote site inspections and the use of drones for surveys and inspections.

Change is here

Skills shortages are forcing us to look at things differently, and that can only be a good thing. Adaptability is vital – in finding candidates with the right competencies, in adopting new technologies and digital tools and in being open to flexible working patterns. Soben’s newly revised core values of being honest, brave, dynamic and inclusive have never been more relevant to our recruitment strategy.