Solving the Construction Labor Shortage: How to Boost Retention and Recruitment Through a Modern Wellness and Safety Program

By Lauren Lazar, Director of Program Management, Pivot Onsite Innovations.

Originally published August 2, 2023 in Construction Executive

While there’s been growing investment in infrastructure and construction jobs in recent years, a labor shortage continues to plague the construction industry. An estimated 546,000 additional workers are needed on top of the normal pace for hiring to meet the demand for construction labor in 2023, according to Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).

A key driver of this decreasing workforce is the aging out of older construction workers. With nearly a quarter of construction workers older than 55, it means more and more experienced workers will retire over the next few years. The industry has also faced challenges in attracting younger workers due to rising wages in similar fields including transportation and warehousing that offer better working conditions.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. Construction leaders who have invested in robust safety and wellness programs have seen dramatic shifts in worker satisfaction and retention. These programs are foundational to establishing a culture of care and fostering a positive relationship between leadership and workers. When workers feel like their employer cares for them and has their best interests in mind, they’re more likely to perform better and have higher job satisfaction. This in turn helps employers retain and recruit top talent.

Three Key Components of a Modern Approach to Recruitment and Retention

To combat the labor shortage, it’s important that employers offer wellness programs that focus on creating a healthy environment that supports employee wellbeing. These programs should take a holistic approach and be tailored to focus on the physical, behavioral and environmental wellbeing of the population. Onsite Innovations’ approach to wellness and safety supports the efforts of reducing injury rates, impacting absenteeism and improved retention of trade workers. The concept is no longer theoretical – it’s a proven method, and these three key components positively impact recruitment and retention:

  1. Safety and prevention

Safety is certainly a focus on every construction site, but it needs to be more than just a check of the box and baseline safety requirements. Workers want to know that leadership cares about their safety, and that comes through in the form of continuous improvement and injury prevention.

Whether it’s introducing new personal protection equipment (PPE) or new technology and machinery that improve safety, these types of investments show workers that leadership is being proactive when it comes to their safety. Another component is injury prevention. Bringing professionals like athletic trainers, EMTs or occupational health nurses onto the worksite is a proven way to reduce injuries before they happen and help workers perform at their best. Through strengthening and stretching exercises or targeted condition interventions, these providers can help workers perform more efficiently, gain productivity, and improve morale.

  1. Access to quality health and wellness resources

Today’s modern workforce wants their employers to value and prioritize their well-being. On a construction site, well-being involves both physical and behavioral health. Wellness programs that provide education and support around health – like nutrition counseling, ergonomics assessments or behavioral health chats – keep workers engaged in their personal health and help to create a culture of care that sets everyone up for success.

Bringing a wellness cart onsite throughout the day is another way to get workers away from their stations for a bit and take a short break for their mental health. For example, wellness carts provide the opportunity to remind workers about the importance of hydration and adequate sleep for their energy and performance. The cart is also an entry point for onsite care providers to check in with workers about anything bothering them – physically or mentally – and share healthy tips or advice. Providing these resources equips workers with the tools they need to stay healthy and work at a high level.

  1. Environmental wellness

Workers are more motivated to show up to work when the environment in which they’re spending 8-10 hours a day is a welcoming place. Environmental wellness is about making worksites more comfortable for workers and more conducive to well-being. Some approaches to environmental wellness include offering clean hygiene amenities, healthy food options, and hydration stations or stretching stations. There are also lifestyle services leaders can provide to boost environmental well-being like on-site haircuts, healthy food trucks or smoothie stations, and preventive health screenings. Worksites have remained fairly unchanged for decades, and providing even minor upgrades or perks is an excellent way to show current and prospective workers that you are cognizant of the changing workplace dynamic and willing to ensure your site meets the demands of the modern workforce.

These services offer convenience and allow workers to take time to care for themselves during the workday. Making the worksite more enjoyable can help boost productivity, reduce absenteeism and increase employee retention. Simple additions like these environmental wellness initiatives show workers that leadership is willing to go above and beyond to ensure they’re taken care of.

Building a Loyal Workforce

While all of these approaches are key to boosting retention and recruitment, the most important piece boils down to the relationship between site leadership and the worker population. Building trust leads to loyalty. Workers will want to continue working for an employer they have a strong relationship with and will be more likely to spread the word with their peers.

Showing care for their health and well-being is the best way to build a healthy and strong relationship. It’s also the best way to boost productivity and efficiency and bring in younger, talented tradesmen. Word of mouth goes a long way in the construction industry, and top trade workers want to work for an employer that goes above and beyond in their approach to safety and wellness.

About Lauren Lazar

Lauren Lazar is the Director of Health and Wellness at Pivot Onsite Innovations leading the company’s growing mental and behavioral health and wellness services program. Lazar has more than a decade of experience in leading the implementation of successful wellness programs across multiple sectors of the occupational health care industry.

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