The Real Reason Behind the Skilled Labor Shortage…and it’s not $15 an Hour

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***Photo from a live Lanier United Construction Site***

If you check out the business news, you see articles like this one from the Kansas City Business Journal discussing the dangers of a labor shortage. They cite all sorts of reasons for the labor shortage, including  the “mass exodus of baby boomers from the workforce, record low participation rates among the working-age population and the lowest birth rates in U.S. history.” They’re talking about a current and future labor shortage facing this country.

You might have read some of my recent LinkedIn posts about the current labor shortage, like this one, and how the labor shortage is impacting commercial construction.

If you’re an employer trying to run a business, what do you do?

As a business leader in the commercial construction industry, I know all too well that for our industry, having people isn’t the problem. There is labor out there. It’s the lack of SKILLED labor in the construction industry that’s the problem.

Here is how we got to this point: the construction industry has had immense expansion. Projects are becoming bigger and more sophisticated than they were even ten short years ago.

The marketplace has moved, even with residential construction, to massive projects with many moving parts that require more and more people.

When we look at what is required to do these types of projects, even things like building housing–let alone commercial projects–we see a need for more quality, trained individuals. How do those individuals become highly trained? They learn the skills by doing them, which takes time.

There are people for labor, but they just don’t have the right skills to keep up with all the money that is being funneled into these projects right now.

How can we get more skilled workers? 

Well, we are in a bit of trouble here, because the only way to create a skilled worker is to give someone the opportunity to work on a job that gives them those skills. Training programs don’t always teach you how to do the work. School is great, but it doesn’t always give the real-world applications needed for the skills.

If you haven’t done it and lived it, you aren’t really skilled.

So, there is no real way to fast-track this.

Alongside this is another issue: the economy has grown so now there are more opportunities for people to make a quality wage in non-construction areas. Compared to the work you do outdoors with your hands, a lot of people have found jobs they like better in the new, expanded economy.

Businesses like FedEx, UPS, and Amazon have hundreds of thousands of workers in systems and chains that are what it takes to run that box to your house in just a few hours. That’s one place where the manual labor market has gone. It’s been pulled someplace else.

The skills required for FedEx, Amazon, and other businesses are faster to learn.


Because those workers have automated environments designed to help new workers learn quickly and get up to speed. The skills in construction haven’t changed in hundreds of years and they require experience. You might have a tool to help you do it, but at the end of the day, you are still stacking a brick or stacking a 2×4 and nailing it in.

Construction skills take time for workers’ minds, hands, and eyes to understand what quality output is and to be able to produce it. These jobs now compete with jobs in a logistics environment. Those workers are part of technology designed to make it easy for new employees to replace former employees. Those are jobs with a very short learning curve.

It’s the opposite of skilled labor.

The logistic companies have enjoyed the expansion of their American dream. They have taken the able-bodied people who could have gone into other areas and developed skills over a number of years until they were truly proficient in a trade. Instead, those workers have taken jobs that require very little experience.

That’s the problem. And that is why there is a shortage in skilled labor.


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