Pandemic amplifies talent shortage, lack of diversity in construction industry
West Michigan’s construction industry has long faced a talent shortage fueled by a worker exodus during the 2008 recession, stigma around going into skilled trades, and firms failing to recruit a diverse workforce.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these ongoing issues for West Michigan construction firms through state-ordered shutdowns last spring and a further shrinking talent pool as workers contract the virus.
About 5 percent of the construction workforce has been sidelined because workers have contracted COVID-19, have been exposed to someone with the virus and have to quarantine, are immunocompromised and are taking a break, or are serving as a caretaker for a family member with COVID-19, said Norm Brady, CEO of Associated Builders & Contractors’ Western Michigan chapter.
‘White male-dominated’ industry
Demographics in West Michigan and across the country are changing, and so far the construction industry hasn’t kept up, said Aaron Jonker, president and co-owner of Wolverine Building Group.
“Most of our job sites are white male-dominated in this industry, particularly in West Michigan, but that’s got to change if we want to maintain viability,” Jonker said. “Part of it is encouraging people of color and women to see construction as a viable career choice.”
Jonker is part of the Talent 2025 Inc. diversity and inclusion team, a community-based approach to attract and support people of color in the workforce. Jonker said the work is critical since being the only woman or the only non-white person on a job site can be intimidating.
“We need to understand our differences,” Jonker said. “The misconception of ‘color blindness’ is a huge problem. We need to acknowledge that race exists and it creates challenges, but we can work through them.”