6 Common HR Issues in Construction

Steven Kuhn
January 21, 2022

The construction industry is poised for a good year in 2022. More than 90% of engineering and construction respondents to a recent Deloitte survey believe the outlook to be positive for the industry. And a recent report from Research and Markets predicts industry growth of 3.7% in 2022, more than double 2021’s growth rate of 1.8%. But to fulfill those big contracts, construction firms need to first address workforce and HR issues in construction.

The construction landscape is evolving. Human resource teams in the construction industry face unique challenges from internal risk factors and external circumstances. The risks to construction workers are growing, and more workers are leaning into organized labor. And when it comes to skilled talent, the industry has never been more competitive. Construction companies must innovate and provide opportunities for advancement to attract the best talent in the business.

All of these challenges can be a headache for HR teams at construction firms. To capitalize on a growth market, construction HR teams must align their talent strategy with the business strategy to pave the way for better worker satisfaction and workforce experiences.


Here are some of the biggest HR issues in construction, along with ways to overcome these challenges at your construction firm.

Protecting Worker Safety and Wellness

The construction industry is among the most dangerous, accounting for about 20% of private industry worker fatalities in2019, according to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration report. Construction workers spend most of their time on the job site, often in dangerous work environments. These circumstances are aggravated by weather phenomena, such as roofing in rainy conditions or using scaffolding in windy weather. Many of these circumstances are out of HR’s control, but your team must continue improving worker safety at the job site.

HR professionals are responsible for maintaining worker safety in these conditions, both to protect workers and to shield your construction company from high workers’ compensation costs. Some construction firms are beginning to adopt wearable technology that can alert workers on-site when large equipment or other hazards are in the vicinity.

But the best insurance against on-site injury is effective safety training. Lack of familiarity with construction equipment, work conditions and other risks are compounded for new employees. Research from the Construction Industry Research &Policy Center found that 30.1% of on-the-job injuries sustained by Tennessee contract construction workers were in the first six months on the job, and 44.5% were sustained by construction workers in their first year. Research in Ohio and Washington state revealed similar findings.

By providing better training and testing employees more thoroughly, you can build a better awareness of the hazards to construction employees. Comprehensive software for managing drug screenings, training and certifications can minimize risk by ensuring that only qualified workers enter the job site — preserving both their colleagues’ safety and their own.

Protecting worker health has become even more challenging since COVID-19 began. OSHA provides guidance for assessing the risk of COVID-19 exposure at the site and for protecting workers on-site.

Maintaining Labor Law Compliance

HR departments must remain alert to labor law changes. Work closely with your legal counsel to prepare for and meet upcoming compliance requirements. Along with counsel, review the local and state legislation that’s occurred over the last couple of years, and update your employee handbook to reflect those changes.

The patchwork of laws governing work is only increasing in complexity. Under President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 14042, construction companies with federal contracts must abide by the COVID-19 guidance provided by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force throughout the contract term. That guidance includes vaccine mandates and masking and distancing requirements.


Stay Abreast of Union Activity

The construction industry faces potential increases in union activity. Union membership in the construction industry remained steady in 2020 and may even pick upas we move forward. Furthermore, there is potential legislation that could heavily affect HR management at construction firms.

Overcoming Staffing & Skills Shortages

Construction jobs are harder than ever to staff. As many as 80% of constructions firms are struggling to find craftworkers, the Associated General Contractors of America reports. Finding qualified workers with the skills and training you need to complete a project will continue to be a significant challenge in the construction industry.


Adapt to Demographic Changes

As older employees retire and fewer younger workers enter the field, the competition for skilled workers is only heating up. Find ways to offboard older workers in a way that creates a smoother transition. Offer part-time options to workers on the verge of retirement, and put them in consulting or mentorship roles. Develop channels for these experienced workers to pass their knowledge down to the next generation. Such programs can mitigate the challenges posed by the skills gap.

A look at construction workforce demographics reveals further opportunities for attracting new talent into the industry and improving employee engagement. The overall workforce is extremely diverse, yet the construction industry remains dominated by white men. By branching out to attract workers with more dimensions of diversity, construction firms can buildout their talent pipeline.


Rethinking Compensation & Benefits

Despite the high risk involved in construction labor, the pay for the average worker in the industry remains relatively low. Offering better rewards packages and advertising them to candidates could set your firm apart from your competitors.


Invest in Skills Development

Expand your in-house training programs, or partner with trade schools and credentialing agencies to upskill lower-skilled workers after they are hired. While it’s historically been unsafe to train unskilled workers on the job, where they’ll be exposed to extreme hazards, new training tools like virtual reality are changing the game. When unskilled workers can be trained on the job, you can attract a much wider candidate population and prepare them in house for success.

Embracing Digital Transformation

The construction landscape is evolving. Digital disruption is introducing new tools and technology to the field everyday. And 95% of office- and field-level construction workers believe that the workforce is ready to adopt new digital tools, a survey from the Dodge Construction Network found. Yet the same research finds that only 15% of survey respondents have started with digital transformation strategies.

Because digital transformation coincides with HR on several levels, HR can take the lead in developing the firm’s digital transformation strategy.

First, digital transformation is essential for effective employer branding. To attract younger and more diverse workers, construction companies need to add more leading technology and share the opportunities workers will have to learn to operate cutting-edge machines.

Second, digital transformation also affects the workforce experience. Workers today expect to have access to tools and resources that make their jobs easier and help them work more efficiently — and more safely. Tools such as 3D printers, wearable technology, drones and virtual or augmented reality can all add benefits to the workplace while creating amore exciting work environment that invites innovation.

Finally, HR will need to develop new training programs to prepare workers for digital transformation. The use of AI and automation are likely to become more popular in construction over the next few years, and employees will need to be trained to work alongside and monitor this technology on-site.

Providing Opportunities for Mobility

In a hot labor market, you need every advantage in attracting and retaining talent that you can get. Offering opportunities for advancement within your organization can give you that edge. But many outside of the industry still perceive construction roles as dead-end jobs.

Construction workers want opportunities for growth. Developing in-house training to take workers to the next level is an attractive option that can set your company apart from your competitors. Consider offering internship, apprenticeship or returnship programs to onboard talent at all stages of their career journeys.

Many opportunities for advancement depend on access to learning opportunities. By subsidizing degrees and certifications, you can offer those opportunities to a greater number of people. Internal upskilling programs can also help you maintain top talent between jobs for a better chance at achieving long-term workforce engagement.

Tackling HR Issues in Construction

HR teams in the construction industry face many challenges moving forward. To make matters worse, HR teams at construction firms are often small. They may only have the bandwidth to react rather than be proactive.

The solution to solving HR issues in construction is to become more strategic. Each of these issues affects the firm’s bottom line in a big way. And because the challenges affect the business strategy, any proposed solutions should be aligned with the business strategy.

Work alongside business leaders to address the talent challenges and other HR issues in construction your firm is facing this year. By taking a strategic approach, you can align the talent strategy to drive business results.

Steven Kuhn
Chief Sales Officer
Senior Sales Professional with 20+ years of strong executive experience, selling software solutions and building relationships in Enterprise and Mid-Market.

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