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Recent reports have forecast an impending labor crisis in the construction industry, predicting it will be facing a shortage of two million workers by 2019.

Although the economic future of construction looks promising, the number of skilled construction workers isn’t rising at the same meteoric pace that job opportunities are, leaving many firms unable to find qualified labor to meet the high demand.

It seems contradictory that a labor shortage is predicted while there are an abundance of people applying for construction jobs. However, the issue is not the number of contractor hopefuls, but rather their skill level. In 1950, 60 percent of manufacturing jobs could be handled by unskilled laborers. Just 10 years ago that number shrank to only 15 percent, meaning that the remaining 85 percent of jobs require trained and qualified individuals.

One of the best ways to combat this potential shortage and increase the number of trained and qualified contractors is continuing education. In a dynamic and rapidly evolving industry, many construction professionals view continuing education as a method of remaining relevant and competitive. Following is an introduction to the basics of post-secondary training as well as three reasons why this method of learning and self-improvement should be a priority for anyone active in the construction workforce.

What is Continuing Education?

Continuing education is post-secondary training provided for adults after they’ve left the formal education system (i.e., college or trade school), and can be attained in a multitude of ways. Contractors interested in furthering their education can take courses for credit from a college or university, either in-classroom or online; obtain certification and license renewal from their state’s construction industry licensing board; attend workshops offered by professionals at conferences; or do self-directed learning through personal research or organization membership.

Unlike traditional schooling, continuing education opportunities are flexible and varied, ranging from 90-minute workshops to four-year college degrees. The options available can fit nearly any budget and schedule, and many are accessible online, so contractors can continue to work while they build their education. Each format of continuing education has its own benefits and drawbacks, and potential students ought to research their options before jumping in. Are the courses accredited? When does a particular certification need to be renewed? Can the credits transfer to another institution?

Like everything else, the construction industry is changing rapidly, and best practices that have been in place for decades may now be outdated. It is crucial that every contractor is informed and educated on the latest workplace safety standards issued by OSHA, and there are other important facets to individual jobs that require an updated knowledge base. Craft professionals ought to be aware of the latest in technology and equipment, engineers need to be familiar with current design software, and site managers must be knowledgeable about the laws pertinent to the jobsite.

Personal Benefits

It comes as no surprise that a candidate with up-to-date industry knowledge will edge out any competitor for the job. A contractor with a strong background in his or her trade is an ideal candidate to a certain degree; however, if knowledge of current safety procedures, applicable laws, or new technology is lacking, the person might be passed over for a candidate who has kept abreast of the latest in construction.

Once employed, a contractor should continue training at every opportunity available. It makes him or her a valuable employee who is less likely to be on the chopping block in the event of downsizing and can even lead to an increase in salary or a better position. Most importantly, however, is the personal safety that comes from a firm grasp on new equipment and OSHA regulations.

Outdo the Competition

For construction firms, the opportunity to shine above other companies is a good reason to encourage employees to continue their education. Researching the competition and determining their weaknesses can put a firm at an advantage—for example, does the competitor use an outdated edition of design software or a less effective tool on the jobsite? A company whose employees are continually training and improving appears to clients to be a safer, less expensive and more efficient firm with which to do business.

Additionally, contractors that pursue continuing education opportunities may help construction firms weather the impending labor shortage by ensuring they have enough highly-skilled and trained crew members to meet the growing demand for buildings, highways, bridges and other public needs.

For the Benefit of the Public

Not only do individual contractors and their employers benefit from continuing education, but so do clients and the general public. A crew well-versed in workplace safety, new techniques and tools, and current laws and regulations will result in improved job performance, fewer delays due to injury or red tape, and a more efficient process from start to finish. This leads to improved client satisfaction and ultimately to a safer, better-built building or space for the public to utilize.

The opportunities for continuing education have never been easier or more plentiful than they are today. Designed to fit every budget, travel and time constraint, it is easy, beneficial and advantageous to those who participate. Continuing education will strengthen the construction industry, individual firms and their contractors against the potential labor shortage, which benefits society as a whole.

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