On-Site Magazine

Combating the labour shortage with operational efficiency gains

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April 15, 2019 by Jason Barber

Digital tools can give contractors an enhanced bird’s eye view of their operations, helping to unlock new efficiencies. PHOTO: Getty Images

By the year 2028, the construction industry will likely need to fill approximately 300,000 job openings. As more than a quarter of a million construction workers are expected to retire in the next decade, production is expected to weaken in most markets due to the aging population, skilled labour shortages, insufficient training and numerous other factors, according to a recent BuildForce outlook.

This forecast confirms what many in the sector have predicted for some time now — the construction labour shortage in North America is not only intensifying, but it’s leaving many companies scrambling to find qualified new workers and struggling to retain existing talent.

While the industry is long overdue in addressing this complex labour supply/demand conundrum, the good news is that those business leaders that approach the challenge with an immediate, proactive approach will be able to better optimize site productivity and reduce the risk of labour shortage problems down the road.



With overall skilled labour productivity in decline — and no signs of abating in the immediate future — it’s clear that effective workforce growth strategies and the capacity to accomplish the same or more work with fewer workers is needed.

To remain competitive, contractors must shift their traditional strategy of reacting to inefficiencies and labour shortages, and take a more proactive approach to entice and retain skilled workers. Adding and attracting more labour is not the silver bullet.

There are numerous options available when project managers invest adequate time in front-end planning, according to a recent study published by Construction Industry Resources LLC.

Here are a few factors to consider early in the project process:

  • Get your schedule and budget right the first time. In many cases, labour shortages tend to increase costs and delay project start dates. It is essential to include these factors in a project’s schedule and budget prior to finalizing commitments.
  • Attract and recruit skilled workers. Contractors must optimize all opportunities to attract the best, most experienced workers, including getting the right leaders with proven capability to effectively staff projects. It’s also important to realize that it takes time to train new workers adequately and to bring them from entry-level to apprentice to skilled, productive tradespersons.
  • Retain workers. It is crucial to retain newly acquired workers through project completion and beyond. A smart strategy in minimizing turnover issues is to provide a well-managed project environment with ideal working conditions.
  • Change the project location or schedule. For some contractors, it is possible to prevent labour shortages by tweaking the project location or timing.
  • Leverage new tools to boost labour productivity. It makes sense: increasing productivity can eliminate the need for additional workers. By using proven technology for planning and executing the work, leadership can optimize productivity on worksites and lower the risk of labour shortage issues.



Emerging digital technologies are delivering new opportunities for contractors to address many of the challenges associated with the labour shortage and poor productivity. Some of these tools are not only helping to boost on-site productivity but are also reducing waste and alleviating the unfavorable impact of job site surprises.

Those leaders open to adopting newer, more collaborative construction tools and technology can eliminate many inefficiencies. Much of the cloud-based technology not only takes the complexity out of managing the construction business, but it also improves the productivity of contractors, helping teams meet more deadlines by scheduling and allocating available and compliant resources to multiple projects at the same time. The technology’s real-time reporting capabilities on precise field data allows companies the opportunity to improve operations and win more profitable projects.

Digitized construction tools also help resolve many common daily challenges that can often hinder productivity while improving asset and worker management at the same time. This simplifies operational management when it comes to critical areas such as routine and specialized worker documentation and licensing, maximizing special skill sets, streamlined quality control processes, equipment organization, promotion of worker safety and overseeing temporary employees.

Recruiting, training and retaining skilled construction workers in today’s competitive business environment goes far beyond a simple monetary investment — it can significantly impact project success or failure.

While some contractors view cultivating and fostering a productive, highly-skilled team as a perpetual challenge, it’s truly where business owners have the capacity to make a genuine difference and play a considerable role in growing the overall workforce.


Jason Barber is vice-president of construction market and innovation for Assignar, a cloud-based operations, compliance, asset and workforce management platform for self-perform contractors.

He has 14 years of experience in the construction industry, including serving as resident engineer and construction manager for Kiewit and Emcor.