Why Good Contractors Are So Busy: Construction Labor Shortage & Homeowner Tips

By HomeAdvisor

Published July 6, 2018

Construction workers on site on a cloudy day

If you’re trying to complete a renovation or construction project, you might be on the lookout for contractors. You’ve called around and wonder why the prices seem high or the work can’t start as soon as you’d like. It’s not that contractors don’t want your business. It’s that their business is in such high demand that they can’t keep up.

Skilled contractors have been in short supply for years. In fact, 93% of surveyed construction businesses had trouble finding skilled workers to help them manage the volume of jobs coming in. This prevents them from growing with demand.

Whether you live in a rural area with sparse contractor coverage or an urban area that’s saturated with repair needs, the number of skilled manual labor per capita is decreasing.

What caused the construction labor shortage?

The nation is experiencing a generational gap. Younger people aren’t refreshing the retiring workforce.

Millennials shied away from skilled labor due to a societal push to attend 4-year universities and witnessing the negative effects of the Great Recession on construction employment. This led many into tech and white-collar industries.

Eyes are shifting to Generation Z, also known as Post-Millennials, born around 2000 or after. They are entering the workforce or higher education and positioned to learn about the high-demand and great salaries offered by construction jobs. There are even construction industry scholarships to help educate and encourage young people to pursue these high-earning careers.

What are contractors doing to keep up with demand?

What steps are businesses taking to solve or reduce the effects of the shortage?

  • Labor Automation: Machines can now fill in some gaps in labor. Simple tasks can be automated to help speed up the labor process and meet increasing demands. Automated labor also means less human error, so it’s reliable support for a skilled contractor. Depending on the tools they’re using, this could save or add to their overhead and your project price.
  • Hiring Temps: There are many jobs that machines can’t do that require experience and a human touch. Temps can fill in that need quickly so that more residences can be attended to in a shorter turnaround. This might mean that their training a temp on your work site.
  • Using Lots of Overtime: If automation and temps aren’t an option, then the entire crew will need to work extra shifts to cover the needs. This can mean increased costs for you.
  • Expanding Availability: Many contractors are now expanding their hours to be available when their customers are actually at home to relieve the strain on labor needs. Holiday pay could also mean higher costs to you.

Coverage to expect near you

Different locales have unique labor coverage problems:

Rural Areas

A smaller population naturally requires less contractor coverage. This normally works out since supply meets demand. However, labor can easily stretch too thin during times of peak demand such as after storms or during the summer.

Tips: You should expect there to be fewer businesses and more limited hours of operation. While demand isn’t usually high, peak times can result in backlog because of the lack of skilled labor in the area. Your best action is to plan.

Urban Areas

Heavily populated areas require more contractors to keep up with the demand for labor. However, a dense population in general means that there are consistently more work orders, which can keep local contractors busy all year long.

Tips: You’ll have more choices of contractors and more flexible hours to schedule appointments. You’ll also be competing with more customers in the area who will have repair and servicing needs.

What can property owners do?

The first thing to do is simply be understanding and informed about the shortage and how they are working to keep up with demand. Here are some proactive things you can do to coordinate with pros to get work done when you need it:

1. Schedule work in advance.

The more work you can put on the calendar in advance, the less scrambling you’ll need to do to keep your property in great shape when everyone else is asking for in-demand services.

  • Call and make an appointment for routine maintenance and inspections to have it scheduled months in advance.
  • Before your contractor leaves, make another appointment for an inspection/maintenance and put it on the calendar.
  • Call before the storm. If your roof is 20 years old and you’re heading into the hail or windy season, consider calling a pro to get an inspection and set up a time to make the necessary repairs or replacements.

Scheduling routine maintenance and inspections in advance will put you on the contractor’s calendar so that other needs won’t trump yours when the time to service your AC comes around in the spring. Here are some routine tasks that you can put on your contractor’s schedule in advance:

2. Be flexible.

  • Be open to getting the job done in parts because the hours they have during the day for your job may be limited.
  • Consider making your project simpler if your work order was originally complicated.
  • Compile a list of tasks to complete at once. This might increase your budget, but it has the benefit of completing all the work you need before other small issues crop up.
  • Be prepared to accept some inconveniences to get work done. This may involve taking a half day off work to get a job done during the week instead of waiting for the weekend.

3. Have a go-to list of pros.

Who you know can easily affect whether you get work done when you need it. If you take the time and effort to create relationships with your favorite contractors, they may be willing to work with you more closely or quickly than other clients.

Follow the best client etiquette. Be flexible and understanding. Scheduling tasks in advance can establish you as a valued, regular customer among a flood of demanding, unfamiliar requests.

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