The Skilled Labor Shortage: Finding Employees in a Booming Market

How many times have you thought, “I could get more work, I just can’t find the people to do it”?

As with solving any business challenge, the best place to start is finding the root and severity of the problem. While problems are never fun to look at, stick with us because the analysis and what follows will give you some creative ways to stay a step ahead of this tightening labor market.

How Serious Is the Labor Shortage?

Regarding the magnitude of the construction labor shortage, Michael Bellaman, President of Associated Builders & Contractors (21,000 members), stated that 76% of their members are hiring in the first half of 2018, and the upcoming infrastructure bills being considered by congress could create another 700,000 jobs in an already tight market.

According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the cost and availability of labor is the top concern for 82% of their builders, which is pushing builders to find innovative ways to do more with less.

So … is it really the boom, or are there more factors contributing to the apparent lack of job candidates?

Factors Contributing to the Skilled Trades Shortage

A major factor affecting the labor pool is vo-tech courses in schools changing or even being mothballed. Instead of building trades and automotive mechanics, students are exposed to futures in robotics, high end manufacturing machine operation, and every form of IT.

During the downturn, IBM and others reached out to schools seeking to upgrade many “blue collar” educational programs to “new collar” or “grey collar” training grounds. In some cases, corporations are offering up to $17,000 per student for an apprentice program to train workers who can operate their machinery or products.

Administrators, faced with a lack of interest, are taking trades out of high school and vo-tech educational programs.

Changing Perceptions of Skilled Trades

Jimmy Danner of the Texas Workforce Commission said something to me that made a lot of sense: “There’s dignity in all types of work, but educators marginalize people with no degrees.”

I totally agree. The flow of people entering the workforce through the public education system has been led to believe that trades are not careers. Many go to schools only to become saddled with debt and sent out to dead end occupations that pay less than skilled trades do.

But has this really affected what young adults are thinking?

NAHB did a study in 2017 showing that only 3% are considering work in the construction trades. What’s worse, 63% of those who hadn’t chosen a career path stated there was little or no chance of them considering a career in the trades regardless of pay.

Finding Solutions to the Construction Labor Shortage

So, what can we do? Quite simply, get creative!

I’m not talking about poaching other contractors’ people, even though it’s already happening. I’m talking about understanding the new employment market and how to win.

I divide getting creative into two paths:

  1. Where do I cast my net?
  2. How do I cast it?

While speaking with Jimmy Danner, he mentioned a job where he could only find a couple qualified applicants to send — but over 125 people applied for the job. This suggests that many people already working are actively seeking better jobs.

Casting a Net

Your goal should not only be to find the job seekers the local unemployment office might send, but also the 120 job seekers Jimmy didn’t hire that are still looking. The only way to do that is to be where they are looking and appeal to their motivations. I need to tie what I do into their emotional situations, frustrations, and dreams.

What if I were to post on the recruiting sites, in the sales jobs section, “Tired of rejection? All that time selling and making no money? Can you work with your hands? How about learning a career you could do on your own one day?”

Now, before you get upset about telling them they could do it on their own one day, isn’t that the American Dream? I would rather have someone with a dream than someone who doesn’t want to get up in the morning. I can always train them on the reality of what it means to own a business, but if they have the desire to work hard and get ahead, I want them on my team.

What if I post in the banking or retail sections, “Tired of being cooped up inside and not making any real money? Do you like to work with your hands? Would you like to make more and learn a trade?”

We need to attract fresh blood into the market and change the image of what we do. Building and construction trades are great careers, and insulation is rising up the scale of trades that require smart people to be involved. When you think of building science, changing building codes, proper ventilation, air tightness, and how the building must work as a system, there is a lot to learn and plenty of career path options for those coming into our trade.

Getting Creative

On my call with the Texas Workforce Commission, Jimmy admitted he had no idea how much a good installer could make. I would bet that holds true for coaches, teachers, counselors and a myriad of others out there that we could be reaching.

Go speak at your old high school. Attend every job fair. Post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter — everywhere you can. (See our resources section at the end of this blog!)

Get creative with your workforce. Hire two ex-military senior citizens to work part time and split the week. They know how to keep a warehouse in order and will have your crews out early every day. In fact, wouldn’t it be cool to have a senior citizen working part-time posting creative job listings for you and searching Twitter and Instagram finding your next lead installer?

Nothing would excite me more than for you guys to have more applicants than you have time to see. If you have more creative ideas or things that have worked for you, send us an email.

Job Resources Section

Job Recruiting/Posting Sites


  • High school coaches, shop or drafting teachers, guidance counselors
  • Trade schools
  • Community colleges
  • Churches
  • Rec centers
  • Boys/Girls Club
  • Parole officers
  • Local missions
  • Good Will/Salvation Army

Our goal at IDI is to help you grow your business profitably. For more information on ways we do that, reach out to your local IDI branch manager or contact us here. We look forward to earning your business every day.

By Ken Allison
Ken Allison works for IDI Distributors in Business Development and Building Science. You can find him at any of our training events around the country helping local contractors grow their business. For more creative solutions to solving a labor shortage, read this article or sign up for an upcoming training event near you.


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