The construction labor shortage is dire.
According to the 2020 Workforce Survey by the Associated General Contractors of America, more than half of responding construction firms said they could not find enough skilled tradespeople for their open jobs.
The problem is even bigger for highway and transportation contractors, with nearly three out of four reporting at least one unfilled hourly craft position.
One of the problems certainly is a lack of skilled tradespeople entering the workforce, but there is also the problem of connecting qualified commercial trade workers to relevant construction job openings.
In today’s digital world, sourcing skilled tradespeople through word of mouth is not working like it did in the past. One type of solution that is emerging is an online labor marketplace platform designed specifically for the construction industry.
Finding New Ways to Recruit
Old-school recruiting methods are no longer effective in the trades. And most digital platforms are not great at serving the skilled trades.
Facebook is for connecting with family and friends. LinkedIn is built for the office professional.
Effective solutions need to go beyond a purely transactional job board, such as Indeed or Craigslist.
“Job boards are something workers use once every 12 or 18 months,” says Peter Maglathlin, co-founder and CFO of Trade Hounds. “We need to build something that provides enduring value for the worker over time, regardless of whether or not they’re looking for a job.”
An online marketplace can provide this value, because it connects demand with supply, according to Keith Holmes, senior vice president of BigRentz.
People want to go to one spot online to find a wide range of products and services, thanks to how Amazon has played an instrumental role in this change of consumer expectations.
Millennials, who are now between the ages of 25-39, are also influencing this change. The research journey of this generation, increasingly becoming the decision-makers in their organizations, naturally starts online.
Industries with a high degree of fragmentation on both sides of the market—supply and demand—are primed for a vertical marketplace. The splintered construction market is particularly ripe for this opportunity.
Benefits of Building Community
An online marketplace app designed for the construction industry can pull together the best features from Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn that are ideal for skilled craft workers.
Users can showcase their high-quality work and connect to others in a network that’s relevant to them.
The construction industry can adapt one of the biggest benefits of LinkedIn, which is its ability for users to create professional storefront — a way to be discovered with portfolios that highlight their accomplishments, Maglathlin says. It’s not just for people seeking work; it’s for employers to also identify a person with the right skill set who may consider a new opportunity.
Trade Hounds, an online platform created exclusively for tradespeople, provides a similar environment for construction workers through its app, which launched in 2019.
Users can comment on their work or ask questions about projects or processes. This creates the ability for apprentices to learn from journeymen or other masters of their crafts.
“The community then becomes a great verifier of quality,” Maglathlin says. “It’s all about capturing the hearts and minds of the worker and serving that side of the market first, since skilled tradespeople are the scarce asset in the ecosystem.”
Developing Relevant Connections
A thriving online community that is specific to construction trade workers can increase the ability for job listings to connect with qualified applicants.
“The construction hiring process is different because the industry’s requirements are different,” Maglathlin says.
Construction jobs may require certain certifications, safety training, licenses, or union membership. Users should be able to highlight those elements in their profiles to position employers to make more informed decisions.
Another benefit of online marketplaces is that job postings can then be pushed to relevant, qualified users based on their profiles and preferences.
Employers say they are finding the value in this kind of functionality, Maglathlin says. Plus, they can also establish a brand recognition and get access to passive job seekers.
The Power of Designing Technology for Construction Workers
There is broad opportunity for other types of online marketplaces and ecommerce platforms to be created for construction.
But in order for new technologies in construction to be successful, they cannot be driven by the top down.
“Most of the innovation we’ve seen in construction has been through tools that are sold into the boss and forced upon workers,” Maglathlin says. “It’s really hard to win over the worker with that type of model.”
By designing technology with the individual worker in mind, it then has the power to bubble up to the decision-makers and beyond.
“When you’re introducing new technology to an industry like construction, it’s not really about what we think,” Maglathlin says. “It’s about what the workers and the employers think. It’s really important that technology is focused on the workers and the ways they want to use it.”
This will be the path forward for the construction industry to embrace innovative solutions that can make the skilled trades shortage and other challenges a problem of the past.
Karen Scally is a journalist who has covered the construction industry for over a decade and a current contributor to the blog at Gearflow.com, which is an online marketplace for construction parts, tools, and equipment. This article was adapted from its original version.