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How construction worker shortages affect design professionals

Finding skilled workers may prove to be troublesome for contractors.

The U.S. housing market is showing signs of growth: housing starts have increased 11.3% so far in 2015, while commercial construction spending is up 9.7% in the first half of this year. But are there enough workers to keep up with this growth? Skilled workers have left the industry as a result of the economic downturn of the last few years, leading to a double whammy of an aging workforce with an insufficient pipeline of younger workers.

Census Bureau research has reported that between 2006 and 2011 the construction industry lost 2.3 million jobs. What’s concerning is that despite employment levels well above those of the boom years, the construction industry has recovered less than half of those workers.

Economists who have tracked job-to-job flow found that among construction workers who became unemployed for more than three months between 2006 and 2009, about 40% stayed in construction, roughly 33% switched to another industry, and about 25% are still out of work. The members of this last group are presumed to have left the job market.

The lack of skilled workers impacts construction projects and increases risk for design professionals. Projects may not get built as designed; there may be delays as inexperienced workers struggle to understand the design; and labor costs may increase. Worker shortages also have the potential to affect workplace safety. There have already been increases in the number of reportable injuries and illnesses.
Design professionals will need to consider that less experienced contractors will be interpreting their documents. Design documents and specifications will need to be as clear as possible. Never has it been more important to insist on providing full construction phase services.

Effectively managing the risk of construction contract administration services will require design professionals to:

  • Establish appropriate client and contractor expectations;
  • Know the requirements of the contract documents;
  • Confirm that the construction phase services in the professional services agreement mirror those in the general conditions of the contract for construction;
  • Act affirmatively in fulfilling responsibilities;
  • Use qualified staff to perform construction contract administration services; and
  • Document performance—systematically, contemporaneously, and objectively.

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