The construction labor shortage is discussed at every industry event and gets lots of coverage in industry media and even in consumer media. But how severe is it really? Are there no young people stepping up to fill openings? Are older experienced workers retiring in droves? Are you actually turning down potentially lucrative work because you don’t have the people?

It often seems to me that these things have a way of working themselves out. In chemistry there’s a phenomenon called Le Chatelier’s Principle that describes how equilibrium works. An increase in the concentration of one chemical, or a change in temperature or pressure, causes changes that bring the solution back into equilibrium.

So it goes with systems even as complex as the construction labor market. When there's a shortage, pay rates begin to rise and people fill the openings to where soon there’s no shortage. Contractors who are shorthanded take on only those projects that are most likely to be profitable which may mean marginal projects rightfully go away. Younger workers (the Millennials) begin to see that there’s no one paying them to sit around playing with their computers and that there is good pay in construction.

Now, I'm sure there are some locations or brief periods where there are real significant shortages. And this is NOT to imply that we have plenty of highly trained, experienced, reliable workers, but there always has been and always will be a shortage of really good people. And it also doesn’t mean that we don’t need to continue to work hard to attract the best and brightest to construction and to train them to work safely and smart—we do. But we can find a balance. As Dr. Suess says, “So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact. And remember that life's A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed). Kid, you'll move mountains.”

Are you experiencing severe worker shortages?