FMI, a major provider of financial consulting for construction and engineering businesses, recently published their 2015 report on the hiring and retention of craft laborers in the construction industry.

Over three-quarters of contractors surveyed by FMI last year said they want to increase their pool of skilled trade workers (also known as ‘craft workers’, ‘skilled craftspeople’, ‘craftsmen’, etc.) by at least 10% over the next 10 years. Is that achievable? Even with all the construction workers who were left unemployed by the downturn, not necessarily.

A lack of skilled labor

The construction industry downsized its workforce by about 30% in response to the Great Recession. But as the economy has regained strength slowly but surely, projects have been cropping up at a faster and faster clip, and contractors straining to do what they used to are finding that they need to refill the hole the bad economy gouged in the workforce.

So why can’t they simply hire back the skilled workers they need from the pool of people who were laid off five to seven years ago? According to the FMI report, the reality is that most of the workers who were downsized aren’t returning to the industry. Why? Because many have gone to the oil and gas mining industries or have retired; still others do not have the skill sets needed or are not geographically situated for the right jobs.

The search is on

These are the 5 types of workers expected to be in the highest demand over the next five years, according to those surveyed by FMI:

  • Craft Helpers
  • Laborers
  • Operators (heavy equipment)
  • Carpenters
  • Iron Workers (reinforcing)


As the report states, not all segments in high demand are also in short supply. The craft workers expected to be hardest to find are:

  • Operator (heavy equipment)
  • Welder (boilermaker)
  • Carpenter
  • Pipefitter (all including plumbers)
  • Ironworker (reinforcing)



Attracting the skilled workers they need by “being an employer of choice” was a plan of attack cited by 23% of respondents, but many also said they’d set up internal referral programs with incentives (16%), seek external referrals, or use their web site plus online recruiting tools (9%, 9% & 8%). As far as retention, many again simply said “being an employer of choice”, but 20% of companies also listed offering competitive wages as way to retain craft trade workers.

If they cannot meet their skilled labor needs in the next few years, companies predicted the following results: 32% said their growth will slow, 24% said they’ll be unable to bid on some jobs, and 24% said they’ll turn more to prefabrication and modularization. Almost two-thirds of respondents said they think prefabrication will grow 5% a year over the next few years.

The report is based on a survey that FMI conducted of companies within the Construction Personnel Executives Group (CPEG)—whose members contain some of the largest contractors in the United States. While more large firms than small ones participated, FMI emphasized that companies of all sizes are facing these issues.