Contractors: Focus on the skills gap, not the people shortage, for immediate impact

As the construction industry navigates through a labor shortage, the most important asset for contractors is and will continue to be, their people. Highly capable craft professionals are pivotal to success during a time when they are increasingly difficult to find. The issue is not just daunting, it is circular. It has the entire industry seeking solutions. And, while the shortage is an industry-level issue, the difficulty it creates is experienced most directly by individual contractors — placing the need for immediate solutions squarely in their court. It may be an unfamiliar challenge to many, so it’s worth examining where individual companies can make a difference.  

Labor shortage components

As they hire, companies experience a labor shortage by getting fewer job applicants overall and more applicants who lack the necessary skills for the job. This demonstrates two distinct components of the labor shortage: 1) an actual people shortage, and 2) a shortage of people with the right skills — or a skills gap. This distinction is important because it clarifies specific points of action and impact.

The people shortage is driven by macro trends like waning interest in joining the construction industry and, as baby boomers retire, fewer people in the workforce across all industries. While reversing certain trends is possible, individual companies are unlikely to impact trends quickly enough to address current needs. Instead, contractors must address the people shortage by doing more with fewer people — which means developing current teams for peak performance.

Craft training models: Where does online, self-paced training fit?

Craft training has a long history of success in traditional models that will continue as mainstays in producing highly skilled craft professionals for years to come. Concurrently, online, mobile-friendly solutions will play an important role in helping contractors deal with the realities created by a labor shortage that promises to continue for some time.   

Traditional models

The registered apprenticeship model is an approach that has been proven over many years. The success — and ultimate payoff — of this traditional, hands-on training is discussed in articles and related research by NCCER, including these recent releases: “Compelling Case for Construction Craft Training: The Return on Investment Is Real,” “Worley – Winning Work by Investing in its People, and “Career Pathways Earnings Data Comparison. In fact, NCCER’s modular-based training materials were specifically designed to effectively work with registered apprenticeships.

Hybrid models make up the majority of formal construction education training. These approaches vary greatly in delivery and often combine informal company training with outside instruction from community colleges, high schools or other providers.

Online training

There are many attractive features and characteristics of online training, especially amid current workforce and skills challenges. It’s a viable model for companies and learners when done effectively, and it will play an increasing role in the development of craft professionals.

Through an online learning model, companies can access the resources they need to implement a flexible training program without the need for a formal training department. This enables workers to stay on jobsites, learn at their own pace and study when it is convenient for them, which helps keep jobs and projects on schedule. Easily accessible and customizable, an online training approach helps learners apply new skills immediately. Contractors can successfully onboard or upskill anyone at any time.

Online craft training can be a favorable option for contractors, but it requires specific characteristics that protect the integrity of the contractor and the industry. DIY video training via YouTube is not likely to be an effective approach, for example. Even some formal online platforms today lack proven curricula and quality assessments, settling instead for course completion certificates. Among the more important features needed for effective online training are the quality and track record of the training material, knowledge verification using valid assessments, performance and/or experience verification. 

CraftPro™ is a new mobile-friendly construction training solution scheduled to be released by the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), the gold standard in construction craft training and credentials. It encompasses both knowledge assessment and verification of performance and enables employers to curate the ideal training program to meet their specific needs.  

Watch for more information from NCCER about CraftPro in the months ahead.  

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