This article was written by Scott Shelar for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It ran online HERE on September 8, 2020.  

Opinion: Construction Industry Adapts to Pandemic Challenges

Recent news that the U.S. GDP plunged at the fastest quarterly rate ever due to the pandemic is another blow impacting small business across Georgia. COVID-19 has caused illness and death, pushed us into a recession, and forced businesses to struggle or close their doors statewide. However, there are silver linings if you look for them. The construction industry has stood strong throughout the pandemic; from building roads to breaking ground for new offices and developments, construction crews are busy across the state of Georgia.

There are more than 200,000 people working in construction and the skilled professions across the state. Our industry in Georgia is made up of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses, from general contractors like J.E. Dunn and Turner Construction, to subcontractors like MetroPower and Anning-Johnson. But even when business is booming in “normal” times, hiring trained people to do these jobs is a challenge.

The Georgia Department of Labor estimates the industry will grow by 13.8% by 2028, with 271,529 skilled jobs needed by 2022. As Georgians continue to weather this pandemic, we must continue to think to the future and the importance of building our skilled labor workforce.

At the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA), it’s our job to develop these vital talent pipelines, while addressing immediate labor shortages that we’re seeing across our state. We do that by educating young people about opportunities in the industry and inspiring future builders. Prior to COVID-19, this was done through in-person events and training. But when the world shut down just as we were to hold our annual CareerExpo in mid-March, we knew our recruitment strategy had to quickly pivot. That challenge has encouraged us to be innovative, something with which the construction industry is well-versed.

Our efforts moved online, taking advantage of social media tools, like Facebook, to share the opportunities that are available in the construction industry to new audiences – including people now out of work looking for a new career. Over the past few months, CEFGA launched a series of Instagram and Facebook Live sessions where we discuss career options within the industry, address truths and misconceptions, provide insights on ways to enter the industry, talk about the value of trade schools, and more. We’re also hosting contractors, teachers and young people who share their own experiences and advice.

These virtual sessions have provided an opportunity for people to learn about the promise that the construction industry offers, and we’ve been inspired by the reception. On a recent Facebook Live, more than 2,500 people tuned in to learn more. We hope it’s given many the information needed to enter the skilled trade workforce at a time when it feels like so many doors are closed.

Foundations, government leaders and public and private companies are supporting our work but more needs to be done to promote the opportunities within the construction industry. We are working hard to do our part in this effort, trying to reach many new audiences online until we can meet again in person, but more awareness is needed, and you can help.

Scott Shelar is president and CEO of the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia.