The construction world is changing rapidly like everything else. Tech is making its way ever deeper into the construction industry. The shortage of labor has become chronic since the Great Recession. Covid-19 has only made that problem worse. At the same time, the pool of potential new hires is inexorably growing more diverse.
Diversity is a buzzword in business generally, but the realities of the construction industry need to give it real life. Contractors need to find ways to recruit and retain from non-traditional communities. This is a challenge construction needs to meet in order to succeed. Those potential hires also bring an expectation of a more inclusive and creative work environment than construction has traditionally offered. Larger companies may hire trainers to talk about diversity and placement firms to search for hires, but much of the construction world really happens in smaller subcontractors that need to hire from the same diversifying pool. Hence the industry’s “diversity necessity.” How does a subcontractor or even a general contractor reshape itself to find and keep the talent it needs?
The future construction industry workforce will need a broad range of tech skills in addition to strong backs. As general contractors increasingly push more technical and management responsibilities down to subcontractors, even smaller firms will need to be able to understand and use document management systems, CRM systems and building information modeling (BIM) among others. In recognition, construction can begin to look more and more like a real career path for young tech-oriented candidates.
Construction needs to “re-brand” itself to overcome old workplace culture tropes. Companies are already mandated to not discriminate, but it takes much more than that to make a company truly inclusive and welcoming to a diverse and inclusive workforce. It will require active outreach and educating the existing workforce in the new more inclusive reality. The Associated General Contractors is launching its new Culture of CARE program to help member firms develop their workplace environments to attract, nurture and retain the workforce of the future. Others in the industry should take note.
While all of this may seem obvious and necessary for survival, there are other crosswinds blowing. The economic impacts of Covid-19 are still playing out. The turbulent political environment may also create headwinds. Recent Executive Orders have put into question the kinds of diversity and inclusion training sessions in use at the federal level. The stated purpose of the Orders is to combat what is described as destructive pernicious and false ideologies. There are to be punishments for failure to implement the review and end offending trainings. The Executive Orders take aim most directly at federal agencies which are acting to curtail their equal employment, anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and diversity and inclusion training at the very time when they may be most needed. The guidance on what training is acceptable is still developing as is the story of the future enforcement of these Orders.
The contractors involved in federal work need to take note and watch how this develops. The Orders as written appear to cover most federal contractors who do over $10,000 in Government business in one year. Those federal contractors may be required to certify that they have complied. If the Orders remain in force they will inevitably ripple down to subcontractors and suppliers who may, themselves, be called upon to certify. One could foresee an adverse impact on workplace culture.
Contractors in the federal sphere should consult counsel for guidance. Those outside of federal contracting should probably stay the course for now with their diversity and inclusion training to grow their future workforce. Navigating this environment in our turbulent times remains challenging but the future likely depends on it.