"Human resource": Solution approaches for the optimisation of skilled labour in the construction industry __

23. January 2023 4 min.

Good skilled workers are hard to find on the German and international labor markets. Studies and short reports of the Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich e.V. (IFO Institut) or the Institute of the German Economy (IW) prove that employers from all industries are concerned with this situation. The central question: What does a long-term solution look like?

The participants of the Industry Day 2022 of the Industrieverband Technische Gebäuderüstung Nordrhein-Westfalen e.V. (ITGA NRW) also dealt with the consideration of the scarce "human resource". The presentation of aquatherm managing director Dirk Rosenberg shifted the perspective from the general issue to the challenges of the construction industry.

In this article, we provide an overview of the status quo of the shortage of skilled workers in all industries, address the development of the construction industry, and outline possible solutions for the optimal use of the "human resource" and what role a mix of simpler technology, new division of labour and the standardisation of components plays in this.

The status quo in the construction industry and beyond

As early as August 2022, the IFO Institute determined that demand for skilled workers in Germany had reached a new high. This result emerges from the surveys that the institute has been conducting on the subject of the economy since 2009. In July 2020, 49.7 percent of the companies surveyed were looking for skilled workers. This surpassed the record set in April 2020, which was 43.6 percent.

Service providers aren't the only ones increasingly looking for more skilled workers; lodging and event businesses also need more support. 44.5 percent of the manufacturing sectors that participated in the IFO survey are short of key personnel. Construction, retail, and wholesale are also trying to find skilled workers.

According to the short report published by the Institute of the German Economy (IW) in August 2022, the top ten occupations with the largest skilled labor gaps include the three skilled trades of construction electrical engineering, plumbing, heating and air conditioning technology, and automotive technology. At the same time, capacity utilisation in the skilled trades is high. Demographic change is leading to additional losses of resources.

A 2022 study by the U.K. Construction Industry Board (CITB), the industry skills and training body for the construction industry, also identified meeting workforce needs as a challenge in the U.K. construction sector. Similar trends were evidenced by a report from the U.S.based Dodge Construction Network in collaboration with InfoTech and Hexagon.


Changes due to the pandemic

According to another brief report, "Worried Gastro? Occupational Changes in the Corona Pandemic" by IW, strong changes in the labour market emerged in numerous industries. The tourism, hotel and catering sector, for example, was particularly affected.

Around 216,000 employees left this occupational field in 2020 - many of them finding a foothold in other areas such as sales. That is slightly more than one in four who decided to take up a new profession. This means that no other occupational field had lost as many employees as the tourism, hotel and catering sector. Other occupational sectors, such as small businesses in the food trade, also lost staff.

The question that Dirk Rosenberg posed to the participants at this point in his presentation was: How do we get these two facts - the shortage of skilled workers and the supply of potential workers from other occupational sectors - together to form a solution for the construction industry?

The fact is: Often, necessary processes on construction sites cannot be implemented or can only be implemented with considerable delays. Capacities are lacking for adequate quality in assembly activities. There is simply a lack of the right people - the skilled personnel.

Dirk Rosenberg beim Industrietag 2022 des Industrieverbands Technische Gebäuderüstung Nordrhein-Westfalen e.V. (ITGA NRW)

"Despite the use of all digital tools, from planning with BIM to the creation of an object to maintenance in operation, the human resource becomes a limited commodity, a bottleneck." - Dirk Rosenberg

Possible solutions for the construction industry

In the international and national construction industry, there are different approaches to securing skilled labour.

Digital transformation as a driver

According to the September 2022 Civil Quarterly Report by U.S.based Dodge Construction Network, technology is helping construction companies alleviate the skills shortage by empowering workers and increasing business productivity.

With the help of cutting-edge technologies that are increasingly used on the jobsite, businesses can optimise the performance of their existing workforce and better utilise their resources.

Retaining skilled workers and attracting new employees with the help of strong corporate values

The construction industry has a lot to offer. But that message has not yet sunk in with workers who do not work in the field and are looking for a career change.

Only two percent of CITB study participants who work in another industry said they would consider moving into construction. The UK Construction Industry Board has found that companies can become more interesting and relevant to these professionals by aligning their recruiting efforts with the values that construction stands for. These include, stability, safety, versatility of work, opportunities for employees to contribute, and the chance to specialise and become an expert.

Industrial prefabrication as a solution

In addition to the approach of attracting attention with strong corporate values, solutions can also be found in the process area. One possibility is industrial prefabrication.

The "human resource" can be absorbed with the help of prefabrication: Individual training courses can be used to quickly integrate people into specific industrial areas. This is also possible for more experienced skilled workers who, for example, cannot (or can no longer) work on the construction site due to their age or for physical reasons.

Dirk Rosenberg believes that it is much easier to develop these valuable people into efficient colleagues in a controllable atmosphere in an industrial company, because

  • it only takes a manageable training period to implement simple standardised production steps by non-specialised people
  • the new construction industry colleagues can produce standards easily and quickly, which are then merged on the construction site by the skilled workers

With this solution approach, completely new job profiles are created.

In this way, skilled workers can face the daily demands of very demanding processes on a construction site in a more "relaxed" way, as well as carry out planning, drawings, or functional tests.


Conclusion: Optimisation of the "human resource”

It is not about poaching employees from other industries. Rather, it is about optimising the "human resource" in the supply chain.

Dirk Rosenberg concluded his presentation by quoting architect Emanuel Homann, who had participated in the last ITGA NRW Business Forum and for whom it is important to rethink all processes: in doing so, we must have the courage to dare to do something at the life cycle of a building.

"We all bear a great responsibility. We are all part of the solution. How we act in the coming years will leave its mark on the next generation and possibly the next century." - Dirk Rosenberg