Spokane Journal of Business

Future worker shortages said to concern A&E firms

Jobs in sustainability seen as way to attract young people to sector

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The construction industry is concerned about skilled worker shortages, says a new SmartMarket Report from McGraw-Hill Construction titled "Construction Industry Workforce Shortages: Role of Certification, Training and Green Jobs in Filling the Gaps."

McGraw-Hill says this is its first study to focus exclusively on design and construction professionals and trade workers. Skilled workers have left the industry as a result of the economic downturn, an aging workforce, and an insufficient pipeline of younger workers, says a new study released at the AIA 2012 National Convention and Design Exposition in Washington, D.C., last month.

The study found that about 70 percent of architect, engineer, and contractor professionals expect skilled workforce shortages in next three years. About one-third of those surveyed said they're concerned about a shortage of specialty trade contractors by 2014, and 37 percent of architect and engineering firms surveyed are concerned about finding experienced workers.

Also, 49 percent of the general contractors participating in the study said they're concerned about finding skilled craft workers by 2017. Skilled green workers were found to be even more in demand, with 86 percent of architects and engineers and 91 percent of contractors surveyed saying they're not finding enough employees in that sector.

Facing the loss of employees in the construction professions, industry professionals are worried they may have lost those skills, and uncertainty about interest by the next generation raises concerns about being able to fill gaps in the future.

In a separate but related survey that McGraw-Hill Construction conducted for the American Institute of Architects (AIA), 79 percent of participating architecture firms said they aren't sure the U.S. student pipeline will be sufficient to replace those leaving the profession. That problem is exacerbated by the fact that nearly 80 percent of U.S. architecture students and recent graduates who were surveyed said they would consider working abroad.

"The downturn in construction activity may be masking a serious problem in the construction industry workforce," says Harvey Bernstein, vice president of Industry Insights and Alliances for McGraw-Hill Construction. "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."

Green jobs, in particular, represent a transformational shift in the construction industry. McGraw-Hill Construction found that 35 percent of architects, engineers, and contractors report having green jobs today, with nearly 650,000 jobs in all. That share is expected to increase during the next three years, with 45 percent of all design and construction jobs being green by 2014.

McGraw-Hill Construction defines "green jobs" as those involving more than 50 percent of work on green projects. McGraw-Hill Construction defines such projects as those meeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, or criteria of another credible green building certification program, or that are energy- and water-efficient and also address indoor air quality and/or resource efficiency. Focusing on the construction professions exclusively, this definition excludes support or administrative professionals and manufacturing, production, or transportation-related services.

This growth of sustainability might help draw more young professionals into the industry, researchers said. The study found that 62 percent of trade firms are concerned their profession doesn't appeal to the younger generation, and 42 percent of architects report the same. However, the younger generation reports a strong commitment to sustainability, with 63 percent of surveyed architecture students saying they would engage in sustainable design out of a personal responsibility. This suggests that as green rises, so too may interest among young professionals in the design and construction fields of practice.

"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. USGBC (the U.S. Green Building Council) is excited to be releasing this new report with McGraw Hill Construction and the AIA that directly addresses these findings," says Roger Platt, senior vice president of global policy and law at USGBC. "Job creation and economic stability are crucial to supporting resilient and strong communities, and green buildings support the jobs of the future."

The survey also found that by requiring professional certifications of employees for different skills, firms are more apt to maintain a competitive advantage while also benefiting individual workers. Just over 70 percent of firms indicated that having certified employees increases the competitiveness of their firms to win contracts. Additionally, 68 percent of firms said they believe certified employees help them grow their green business, and 77 percent of surveyed individuals said they believe certification helps them gain valuable knowledge they can use on the job. Three-quarters of the people surveyed said they believe certification brings them more job opportunities, which are key in this time of high unemployment.

"These findings should serve as a huge wakeup call for the entire design and construction industry," says AIA CEO Robert Ivy. "But they also present an opportunity to showcase the tremendous opportunity for architecture students and emerging professionals since there will be such a heavy demand for architects in the coming years."

The premier partners on the research project included the AIA and the USGBC. Other contributing partners included the Society for Marketing Professional Services, National Association of the Remodeling Industry, and the Building & Construction Trades Department of the AFL/CIO, among others.

McGraw-Hill announced last September its intention to separate into two public companies: McGraw-Hill Financial, a provider of content and analytics to global financial markets, and McGraw-Hill Education, a company focused on education.

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