Preparing for the Next Construction Boom

Preparing for the Next Construction Boom

By Daniel M. Hogan, CEO, The Association of Union Constructors

As Indiana and the rest of the country rebound from the pandemic, contractors in the industrial construction and maintenance space are faced with a dilemma. If projections are correct, a new business boom is on the way, a potential tidal wave of public and private sector work. After more than a year of lockdowns and mothballed projects, it seems like exactly what the doctor ordered. But the dream could turn into a nightmare unless our industry takes urgent action to prepare for this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

The new work will come from a variety of different sources. There is a strong push on Capitol Hill to invest tens of billions of dollars in new clean energy projects. The major automotive companies are going “all in” on electric vehicles, with plans to retrofit existing assembly lines and build new electric battery plants (all those vehicles will need roadside stations to charge their batteries, too).

Meanwhile, in the post-COVID era, there is a major push to move the manufacture of essential products like pharmaceuticals and microchips back to the U.S. If that happens, companies will likely need to build, retrofit or modernize hundreds of domestic manufacturing and distribution facilities.

Then there is the enormous backlog of construction and maintenance projects that were delayed due to the pandemic. Those jobs are now coming back online, and clients are anxious to make up for lost time – while still planning a full slate of new projects for 2021 and beyond.

So, demand is at an all-time high with no end in sight and customers are banging on our member contractors’ doors. It sounds great – but there’s a catch.

Earlier this year, I took over as CEO of The Association of Union Constructors (TAUC) after more than a decade with the organization. TAUC is the only national multi-trade, all-union contractor association in the U.S. with more than 1,800 member companies (including over 150 in Indiana). Without a doubt, one of the biggest challenges facing our members is the extremely tight labor supply. Thousands of highly skilled and experienced men and women are retiring from the trades each year, and we aren’t recruiting enough new workers into the apprenticeship training pipeline to replace them — nor are we organizing our non-union competitors. Frankly, many contractors are already turning down work or not even bothering to bid for certain projects because they know there aren’t enough union workers to go around.

TAUC has always prided itself on our close cooperative relationships with the building trades and owner-clients. We can’t fix this problem alone. We need to craft a unified message –that construction is a more

than viable career path for young people with opportunities for real advancement and learning. And we need to make sure that we are welcoming people from all genders, ethnicities and backgrounds. “Diversity” and “inclusiveness” are often seen as generic buzzwords, but in our industry, we take them seriously.

We also need to make sure potential recruits understand that the twenty-first century construction industry is on the cutting edge of technology and innovation. It’s not just screwdrivers and hardhats anymore — far from it. Robotics, automation and even artificial intelligence are becoming commonplace on jobsites. Apprentices receive hands-on training on some of the most advanced tools in the world – and get paid in the process. It’s a great selling point for tech-savvy young people searching for an exciting career.

There is no time to waste. If we want to be in the driver’s seat as the next big construction boom begins, contractors need to reach out to their partners in labor as well as their customers and discuss how to implement one or more of the ideas above. We owe it to ourselves, our employees and their families to not let this opportunity slip by.

Category Features, Last Word