The Construction Beat: How federal vaccine mandates affect construction and tips for hiring younger workers

The most important news updates from across the industry

Sam Garrett / Buildertrend

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This week, we’ll tell you how President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates affect construction firms, ways you can to attract younger workers, what’s changed for unions during the pandemic and an update on the housing shortage.

Vaccine mandates key to winning new federal construction contracts

President Joe Biden issued an executive order Sept. 9 requiring the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard that outlines new pandemic directives for employers. The ETS formally issues in a few weeks and will require (1) employers with 100 or more employees to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations or provide weekly testing; (2) require larger employers to provide time-off to get the vaccine and recover from side effects; and (3) mandated vaccines for federal employees and contractors with no testing option.

While most builders do not have more than 100 employees and thus are exempt from this ETS, builders with current federal contracts or those planning to secure one in the future must have each of their employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Unlike for employers with 100+ employees, there is no testing alternative to getting the vaccine for federal contractors.

This news is particularly relevant for builders who hoped to secure a federal contract once the House of Representatives passes two massive spending bills that would provide billions of dollars for new construction across the country. Accordingly, any builder hoping to secure one of these contracts must ensure their employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk not getting the contract.

Help wanted: 3 tips for builders struggling to hire

Even before the pandemic, the construction industry struggled to attract new, young talent for more than a decade. Nearly 1 million construction workers lost their jobs during the pandemic. Of those 1 million, nearly 200,000 will not be returning to the industry. To make matters worse, construction has only boomed since the middle of the pandemic. With demand high and the labor pool thinning, Associated Builders and Contractors estimates the industry needs to hire 430,000 construction workers in 2021 and an additional 1 million workers in the next two years just to keep pace with demand.

So how can builders attract talent to meet demand? First, builders can offer higher wages. While this can get exceedingly expensive very quickly for a builder, it’s perhaps the simplest step to take. In some regions severely struggling to find workers, construction companies have raised salaries as much as 10%. Second, during the down months when the workload is lighter, builders can invest in training programs for their younger workers. Providing workers with a career path by teaching them skills will assist in keeping these employees in the industry. Finally, builders can attract new talent through culture. “Construction is great, but it’s not rocket science,” said Allison Otto of Otto Construction in California. “If you’re willing to learn and want to be part of our team, we’ll teach you how to do it. Our culture is so important. If we find someone who’s a good fit for it, we’ll mentor them and bring them up.”

Unions regain bargaining power amid labor shortages

The economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic has produced labor shortages across a variety of industries, particularly the construction industry. As a result, active workers and unions in these industries have gained levels of bargaining power they have not had since the 1980s. With this new bargaining power, unions are seizing every opportunity to gain higher wages, secure larger bonuses and receive improved benefits.

Unions have lost membership and traction over the past several decades. In 1983, union membership rates were at 20%. In 2020, that number was only 10.8% – up half a percentage point from 2019. While there appears to be a degree of renewed interest in union memberships, only 12.7% of construction workers were unionized in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Analysis: Pandemic building frenzy left US 5M homes short of need

The start of the pandemic forced millions of workers to spend more time in their homes than ever before. As a result, there has been a renewed interest in the design and setup of a home. Many now want home gyms and offices. Others want more space to roam as they spend more time at home, and there has been an increased interest in home amenities. This interest, combined with the fact the pandemic has interrupted home builders’ ability to meet demand, has resulted in the United States being short 5.24 million homes, according to Realtor.com – an increase of 1.4 million homes from 2019.

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About the Author

sam garrett - law clerk at buildertrend
Sam Garrett

Sam Garrett is a law clerk at Buildertrend

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