Record demand, an aging workforce and dwindling numbers of younger generations entering the workforce have combined to create a worker shortage for many contractors over the past year.
State of the Industry survey respondents ranked their biggest hiring challenges on a scale of 4 (a very big problem) to 0 (no problem at all). Available workers not having the requisite skills for the job and the lack of young workers entering the workforce tied as the biggest concern, followed by high demand leading to a shortage of workers looking for employment, employees not being able to pass a background check or drug screening and the inability to retain good talent because of competition.
“Hiring is our biggest challenge,” Graham said. “How do we recruit and retain good people? We've had people that have been with us for 25, 30 years, but that workforce is absolutely aging. We cannot find workers that are interested in stepping in to fill this gap. There is just such a shortage out there.”
Despite the crunch for talent, the majority of survey respondents said that their company’s workforce has either continued to grow or remained static over the past 12 months.
Forty-eight percent of respondents said they hired more employees over the previous 12 months, compared to 40 percent whose company’s employee numbers remained static and just 13 percent whose workforce decreased over the last year.
Tim Barker, D4 program director of Atlanta-based AECOM, said changing the narrative about the profession to better sell the opportunities available for those working in the field is something that is needed to help drive interest in demolition for prospective employees.
“Raising the level of professionalism in the demolition industry and the perception is going to go a long way to help attract those future workers that we need,” Barker says. “We need to just get that word out that this is a viable, lucrative career path that's exciting.”
Because of competition for workers, companies are getting creative to try to find new ways to attract prospective employees. This includes reaching out to untapped labor pools to fill the void.
“The No. 1 thing we've been trying to do a lot lately is work with the local vocational schools that are in our own town,” Homrich says. “We're kind of a country-based operation on the edge of the metro areas. So, we’re reaching out to vocational students, but also more of the farm-based areas where kids have grown up working on a farm and had to work instead of living in the city, who might not necessarily be interested in college. They've grown up running machinery before they were in high school—longer than some of our operators have. So it just makes sense, which is why we've been going down that route.”
Knightly echoed Homrich’s sentiment, saying the demolition industry is unique in that it offers an opportunity for a good-paying career for graduating high school students who aren’t inclined to go to college and don’t want to be saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt.
While recruiting new talent is a major point of contention in the industry, Knightly went on to say retaining and growing from within is just as important.
He says his company focuses on continuing education, in-house mentoring programs where experienced employees teach the younger employees and offering performance bonuses for quality work to keep and improve the talent on his staff.
Even with all the challenges, the demolition workforce is expected to grow over the next year, as 56 percent of survey respondents said they expect to hire more employees over the next 12 months, compared to 40 percent who said they expected the number of employees to stay the same while only 5 percent expected their company’s workforce to decrease.