Solving Atlanta’s craft labor shortage: Changing perceptions, continuing educationCareers for women abound in the construction industry, whether the work is done on a job site, such as Emory University, or in an office. Industry leaders have focused on attracting more women to the field. Credit: Special to saportareport.com
By Guest Columnist KEVIN KUNTZ, president of the Southeast Division of McCarthy Building Co., Inc. and president of the Associated General Contractors of Georgia
The metro Atlanta landscape is rapidly changing, with a number of new developments on the horizon. The region is one of the United States more active construction markets, with a number of large-scale construction projects including the recent completion of sporting complexes such as Mercedes-Benz Stadium and SunTrust Park; the increase in commercial and mixed-use properties; the relocation of a number of companies to metro Atlanta, and ongoing enhancements to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, just to name a few.
This increase in development has created an incredible demand for construction workers. The Georgia Department of Labor reports that construction industry jobs in metro Atlanta have grown by 7.6 percent, the most growth of any industry.
Despite the surge, there is a still a shortage of skilled workers at all levels. According to the Construction Labor Market Analyzer, there are more than 225,000 unfilled positions in Georgia, with 53,000 of those being craft labor openings. Georgia has ranked as the best state in the U.S. for doing business for five consecutive years, with a large chunk of businesses relocating to metro Atlanta to set up operations. If skilled trades and professions can’t keep up with employer demands, businesses will lose their appetite for developing in our city.
Adding to the pool of applicants has significant challenges. In a 2018 AGC of America survey of Georgia members, 73 percent of respondents said their firms had increased pay or benefits in 2017 to recruit and retain both salaried and craft workers, and that still hasn’t enticed enough additional workers. As previously reported, this tight labor market is more concerning than tariffs for many in our industry.
Part of the problem is there are not enough young people coming in to the market to replace craft professionals aging out of the work force. For every four-and-a-half to five individuals who are aging out of our marketplace, we are only putting one person back in. The industry will need thousands of new employees to stay competitive, but young men and women do not see construction as a viable career path.
There is a perception that construction careers are limited to swinging a hammer. This is far from the truth. There are a variety of jobs in construction, from engineering to estimating, purchasing to safety. Learning a trade is a valuable skill for students and young professionals.
More than that, construction is an exciting career path. Each project has different challenges and innovations. Your work makes a lasting impact on the community – whether it be through the development and construction of a new hospital, school, research lab, highway or airport terminal.
At McCarthy, the recruitment, retention and development of the construction industry is a priority. Part of our recruiting is through engaging with our community schools and supporting the resources that promote construction jobs. McCarthy works with middle and high schools, including Marietta High School, to introduce the variety of great job opportunities available in construction. Our industry partner organization, AGC Georgia, has also partnered with YouScience, a platform that helps identify Georgia students who would thrive in the construction industry and ensures they are aware of the opportunities available to students in the industry.
With today’s changing landscape, technology training is critical for our workforce. AGC Georgia endorsed Senate Bill 3, called the (CONNECT) Act, that will make sure students enrolled in the state’s Career, Technical and Agricultural Education pathway are receiving relevant training and education for the industry they serve. McCarthy also supports programs like The Construction Education Foundation of Georgia and SkillsUSA, a national nonprofit student organization that promotes a skilled workforce and pairs student groups with industry professions for mentorship.
Finally, increasing female talent in construction is an opportunity we cannot ignore. Currently, females comprise only 9 percent of the construction workforce, with less than 3 percent in production roles. Recruiting more women to the construction industry can provide more diverse thinking that improves client service, as well as better reflect the communities for which we build. As we look for a solution to the industry’s labor shortage, we must empower women already in the construction industry to advocate for women entering the job market, showing that there is a place for them in our industry.
At McCarthy, we’ve established the McCarthy Partnership for Women, a national resource group designed to develop and support a company culture where the best women want to come, stay and grow in their careers, as well as to more effectively promote the industry to the future workforce. Our goal is to recruit and retain top female talent in the marketplace and empower them to succeed.
The industry can only do so much on its own. I encourage educators, counselors and parents to help introduce young people to the variety of fulfilling career opportunities in construction. These jobs are an opportunity to think creatively, problem solve and make a real impact on the future of our community.
Note to readers: Kevin Kuntz is a 42-year veteran of the construction industry. Kuntz started with his father’s general contracting firm as an ironworker and carpenter. He joined McCarthy Building Companies in 1983 and built healthcare and research facilities until he moved to St. Louis, where for 13 years he ran the Midwest Division before moving to Atlanta to start the company’s Southeast Division. Kuntz serves as the 2018-2019 president of the Associated General Contractors of Georgia.