Ironworkers News Archive

2018  |  2019

4 Ways to Combat Workforce Shortages - (7/9/2019)

A successful construction job site requires a highly-skilled, productive, and safe workforce. Finding that workforce is becoming increasingly difficult nationwide. According to the Association of General Contractors 2019 National Worker Shortages survey, 80 percent of contractors nationwide have difficulty finding skilled craftsmen. If you look specifically at the state of Pennsylvania, this dilemma increases to 83 percent.

Our construction industry faces a complex set of challenges regarding its workforce. Even with a robust apprenticeship program, today's union workforce must meet obstacles head-on. The following provides insight on how the Union trades and more specifically, Ironworkers Local 404, respond to four main challenges to deliver a skilled workforce for their signatory contractors and owners. 

Aging Workforce

It’s a fact, the average age of today’s workforce is 42, and the construction workforce is leaving faster than it’s being replaced. With this exodus also goes skilled experience. While we cannot expect our workforce to remain on the job site well into their 60s, we can pass on their knowledge. This exchange is at the heart of apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship programs include a combination of classroom and hands-on learning with on-the-job training. In both situations, experience drives instruction. For instance, Apprenticeship Coordinator Dan Hoke has been an Ironworker with Local 404 for over 20 years. He started teaching welding to apprentices about ten years ago, and then about three years ago he became the Apprenticeship Coordinator for the Local. "For Local 404, training in the classroom is done with experienced Ironworkers. The minimum time for our instructors is 10 years. Then, when our apprentices get out in the field they work alongside journeymen, some who have been working in this trade for well over 20 years."


The construction worker image has never been glamorized. In the 70s, 80s and even early 90s, if someone asked you to describe a construction crew, adjectives like rough and tough would be used. These images were imposing figures (primarily men) with multiple tattoos, an aggressive nature, and demeaning vocal behavior towards women. Even if it wasn’t true, perception replaced reality and resulted in a push by parents and schools for a different path for the newly-minted high school graduates. However, there has been a paradigm shift in the last ten years or so. According to Michael Schurr from PTM Consulting, it’s not your father’s industry anymore, especially in Union construction. In a recent webinar, Schurr mentioned today’s apprentice programs also teach soft skills, like sexual harassment, communications, and leadership. “These skills were clearly meant to change the culture of the construction industry and change the image that it had." Additionally, there has been an intentional shift in understanding the business of a job site and establishing a true partnership with contractors. 

Attracting New Talent

Construction work consists of long hours, hard work, dirty work, and dangerous work. As an Ironworker, you could be working 200 feet up, exposed to the harsh elements one job site and in tight quarters, enduring hot temperatures welding at the next site. This type of work is not for everyone, but for those it appeals to, it can be a lucrative career. That said, to increase our workforce, we must make a concerted effort to connect with all those who may be interested in this type of work. The building trades use various programs to reach out to all facets of life. Programs like Helmets to Hardhats targeting veterans, ACES Mentor Program targeting school-age teens, Apprentice Readiness Program targeting underserved communities, and Probationary Memberships targeting non-union workers are just a few that are specifically designed to introduce opportunities and recruit. Each program looks to attract and diversify our workforce, helping to make it a reflection of today’s communities.

Keeping Pace with the Industry Advances

During a recent conversation with a signatory contractor, it was mentioned that change was the only constant on a job site. New equipment, safety procedures, and work processes all lead to a perpetual state of learning. Being flexible, adaptable, and responsive to change remains central to the apprenticeship model. For Ironworkers Local 404 Apprenticeship Program, it is no different. They work closely with their signatory contractors so as new technology is introduced; training can adjust. To ensure current processes are incorporated, trainers themselves maintain a certain level of annual training. The curriculum is regularly reviewed and modified to reflect real-time changes. Additionally, curriculum harnesses technology like simulators and augmented reality to test skills without the risk of injury. 

The apprenticeship model presents the ideal solutions for workforce challenges. By understanding and addressing core challenges like aging workforce, image, diversification, and new technologies, our future workforces will continue to build, and rebuild, America in a way we can all enjoy. To learn more, we invite you to watch a previously-recorded webinar on the 4 Ways to Combat Workforce Challenges conducted by Michael Schurr, Managing Partner of PTM Consulting Group and Dan Hoke, Apprenticeship Coordinator for Ironworkers Local 404.  

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