Document Detail

Title: RS182-1 - The Shortage of Skilled Craft Workers in the U.S.
Publication Date: 9/1/2003
Product Type: Research Summary
Status: Supporting Product
Pages: 36
Presents findings from a study on how to recruit and retain qualified craft workers. Also presents a strategy that may prove useful in optimizing the management of the work force and in getting workers to remain on a project and in the industry. The key is front-line supervisors and supplying them with training, collaboration, and technology.
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Shortages of skilled craft workers continue to plague the construction industry. Employers have attempted to identify the root causes and to develop strategies to overcome these shortages. The Construction Industry Institute (CII) and others have funded research on the problem and generated potential solutions. The industry now uses, although sporadically, a number of initiatives including craft and supervisory training, multi-skilling, and self-directed work teams as well as productivity enhancements utilizing technology, constructability, and prefabrication. Efforts to quantify or qualify the resulting benefits, however, have been unsatisfactory.

Despite this research and the efforts to stem the problem, the construction industry’s skilled worker pool continues to shrink. The decreasing number of young people entering the work force and the failure to recruit from non-traditional labor pools both contribute to this troublesome trend. Over the past 30 years, real wages of construction workers have declined relative to those of other workers. Poor industry image, tough working conditions, and the industry’s perceived poor safety record (despite the stellar performance in safety by CII members) also have contributed to the decline in the number of people willing to enter and remain in the industry.

In 2001, CII commissioned Project Team 182, Addressing the Shortage of Skilled Craft Workers in the U.S., to conduct a study on recruiting and retaining qualified craft workers. Based upon its examination of the industry, PT 182 concluded that:

  • The journeyman-level work force is as educated as the rest of the U.S. population.
  • The construction work force is failing to attract women and minorities.
  • The construction work force can be characterized as two divergent work forces: one that is satisfied with the work and is willing to participate and improve skill levels; and a second that is transient, unsatisfied, and will quickly leave the industry when other opportunities arise. These two work forces have vastly different characteristics and need to be managed accordingly, thus there is a need for two different work force management strategies.
  • Currently the industry is not utilizing any formal, structured work force management strategies, nor does it have a way to measure the success of its current management practices.


PT 182 found a particular interest in a recent collaboration between CII and the Center for Construction Industry Studies (CCIS). That study produced a theoretical model for a revolutionary new way to address the issue in a more comprehensive manner. Although the method, called “Tier II,” is new and future-oriented, it may have a considerable impact on the construction work force and industry.

PT 182 developed a complimentary strategy to Tier II to address the work force shortage: Tier I. It is based on the concept that productivity gains from optimal management of the work force will relieve pressure on demand and will encourage workers to remain on a project and in the industry. These productivity gains will be achieved by applying training, collaboration, and the use of technology in a systematic way to maximize the effectiveness of the front-line supervisors. Tier I proposes that the cohesive, structured implementation of industry accepted best practices will improve the management and utilization of the work force.

It is important to note that the focus for Tier I is on the management and supervision of the work force on a project. Explicitly choosing a work force management strategy in early project planning stages should allow for systems to be put into place, recruitment to be focused, and crews to be structured in a way that will result in better project performance.

Implementing a Tier I or Tier II Work Force Management Strategy will require management commitment. Part of this strategy is the utilization of the Tier I and Tier II Metrics that help to evaluate the implementation of these strategies. Implementation guidelines and a Work Force Assessment Package are currently being developed.

This research summary provides an overview of the work of PT 182 and the findings in the study that led to the development of the Tier I strategy, which shows promise not only in productivity gains, but in recruitment and retention of a skilled crafts work force. Implementing the recommendations made here should help to reduce demand and improve supply of skilled construction workers in the U.S.