A look at what types of employees the E&C industry will need over the next few years and how top companies are working to fill those positions now.
As the U.S. business climate continues to improve and as the labor market tightens, this year is likely to be just as difficult for engineering and construction (E&C) firms that need to fill key positions within their ranks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent numbers, total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 200,000 in January 2018, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.1%. Construction led the pack in new job creation, followed by food services and drinking places, health care and manufacturing.
Construction added 36,000 jobs in January, the BLS reports, with most of the increase occurring among specialty trade contractors (+26,000). Employment in residential building construction continued to trend up over the month (+5,000). Over the last 12 months, construction employment has increased by 226,000 workers.
These numbers should get E&C firms’ attention. This year, 75% of U.S. contractors have plans to add to their workforces, according to a recent AGC survey. Concurrently, the growth expectations within the industry remain strong, even after several years of expansion. While promising for the industry at large, the healthy business environment will most benefit those firms that have already identified their target job roles and are acting quickly to recruit or internally develop candidates to fill these future critical positions.
In FMI’s recent talent development study, 89% of contractors reported difficulty finding qualified workers to hire, and the vast majority believe the challenge of attracting and retaining staff will only intensify (Exhibit 1).
Exhibit 1: Are you facing talent shortages?
Source: 2017 FMI Talent Development Survey
So how can companies prepare for the future with the best possible workforce? This is the million-dollar question in today’s business environment, where these five strategies can help firms prepare now for the workforce of the future:
Each year FMI requests input directly from leading contractors regarding “hot jobs” and new jobs that should be included in future surveys. Interestingly, the areas attracting the most interest for 2018 are not operational roles, but, instead, key support functions, including safety, risk management and marketing/business development. There are two primary reasons for this:
1) These roles have been slow to be established among smaller contractors, and as companies seek to take advantage of the industry’s growth, these areas must be addressed immediately and effectively.
2) There is a natural and obvious evolution to safer work environments and projects, and coupled with potential savings through risk management and revenue growth through business development, these three functions can be continuously improved upon for the benefit of the firm.
2017/2018 Hot Jobs and New Functions
Identified by FMI Survey Participants
1. Pre-Construction Director/Manager
2. VDC (all levels)
3. Marketing Manager/Specialist
4. Safety Engineering Manager/Specialist
5. Compliance Officer/Director
6. Information Security Officer/Director
7. Business Unit Strategy
8. Equipment Manager
10. Community Affairs Manager/Specialist
Source: FMI Compensation Survey Data
- Corporate strategy
- Staffing needs
- Labor market conditions
- Employee perceptions
Workforce Planning for the Future
Every firm is different, so there is no “right” or “wrong” way to prepare for the E&C workforce of the future. There is also no best path to recruiting and retaining the most suitable workers, but companies that take a thoughtful approach to their employment needs will be best-equipped to thrive. With the right people in place, it’s much easier to capitalize on future opportunities, persevere through cycles and overcome critical challenges.
As outlined in this article, the key considerations during this process include an array of factors that range from job function to organizational level to work location. Other important factors include less tactical characteristics like workers’ values and perceptions. Once an E&C firm’s talent needs are known, different compensation strategies can help that company attract, motivate and retain the ideal workforce. With these strategies in place, companies can start to piece together the picture of their future workforces and work toward turning those ideas into reality.