American Institute of Architects CEO Robert Ivy is calling new findings regarding the looming problem of a skilled-worker shortage in the construction industry a “huge wakeup call for the entire design and construction industry.”
“Skilled workers have left the industry as a result of the economic downturn, an aging workforce and an insufficient pipeline of younger workers,” according to Construction Industry Workforce Shortages: Role of Certification, Training and Green Jobs in Filling the Gaps by McGraw-Hill Construction. The report was formally issued at the recent AIA National Convention in Washington, D.C.
The report, however, says opportunities generated by the fast-growing “green” building industry could help attract more professionals and tradespeople to the industry.
The 68-page, comprehensive report discloses that 69% of architect, engineer and contractor (AEC) professionals say they expect to feel the effects of skilled-workforce shortages in the next three years; 32% of AECs are concerned about a shortage of specialty-trade contractors by 2014; 49% of the general contractors are concerned about finding skilled craft workers by 2017; and 37% of architect and engineering firms are worried about finding experienced professionals.
The study also found that many of the industry’s professionals are unsure if the next generation of workers will possess the skills it takes to perform. In a study that supplements the report, AIA found that 79% of architecture firms are “not sure that the U.S. student pipeline will be sufficient to replace those leaving the profession,” a problem intensified by the 76% of U.S. architecture students/recent graduates polled who said they would consider working abroad.
“The downturn in construction activity may be masking a serious problem in the construction industry workforce,” Harvey Bernstein, vice president, Industry Insights and Alliances for McGraw-Hill Construction, said in an announcement on the report. “But the rise of green jobs and more availability of training and professional certifications can help to attract interest in the professions and make firms more competitive.”
Skilled “green” workers are in high demand, the report found: 86% of architects and engineers and 91% of contractors report too few green-skilled employees in the marketplace.
The surveys for the report were conducted in fall/winter 2011.
The Promise of Green Jobs
“Green jobs” represent a “transformational shift” in the construction industry, according to the report.
The study found that 35% of architects, engineers and contractors currently report the existence of positions related to green design and construction, representing approximately 650,000 jobs. That share is forecast to increase over the next three years, with 45% of all design and construction jobs to be “green” by 2014.
McGraw-Hill defines “green jobs” as those involving more than 50% of work on “green projects” or designing and installing uniquely green systems. The company further defines “green projects” as those meeting LEED or another credible green-building certification program, or those that are designed to be energy and water efficient and also address indoor air quality and/or resource efficiency.
The anticipated “green” growth may also help to entice young professionals to enter into the industry, the report concludes. The study found that 62% of trade firms are concerned their profession does not appeal to younger workers, and 42% of architect firms report the same opinion.
On the other hand, the younger generation exhibits a “strong commitment to sustainability,” with 63% of architecture students saying they would engage in sustainable design out of a “personal responsibility,” which suggests that as green design and building trend upward, so too may interest in the design and construction fields of practice, the report states.
“Green buildings are a clear-cut smart investment in the current economic climate because they create financial returns, have environmental benefits and positively impact job creation,” said Roger Platt, senior vice president of global policy and law, U.S. Green Building Council. “Job creation and economic stability are crucial to supporting resilient and strong communities, and green buildings support the jobs of the future.”
The USGBC partnered with McGraw Hill, AIA and other interested parties in issuing the report.
Certifications Seen as Competitive Advantage
“Facing the loss of employees in the construction professions, industry professionals are worried they may have lost those skills,” the report says. Uncertainty about interest on the part of the next generation “raises concerns about being able to fill gaps in the future.”
The study, however, suggests that by requiring professional certifications of employees for different skills, firms are more apt to maintain a competitive advantage while also providing a benefit to individual workers.
Specifically, 71% of firms find that having certified employees increases the competitiveness of their firms in bidding on contracts, and 68% believe certified employees help them grow their green business. Among individual professionals, 77% said they feel certification helps them gain valuable knowledge they can use on the job, and 75% believe it brings them more job opportunities in a challenging economic and employment environment.
The study is reported to be the first of its kind in its exclusive focus on design and construction professionals and trade workers.
Other contributing partners to the report include the Society for Marketing Professional Services, National Association of the Remodeling Industry, Building & Construction Trades Department of the AFL/CIO, ACE Mentor Program, American Institute of Constructors & Constructor Certification Commission, and National Center for Construction Education and Research.
More information and to download the report: Industry Workforce Shortages.