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Construction Labor Market Forecast: What does 2018 hold for Chicago?

Monday, April 16, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Hilary Korabik
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Construction Labor Market Forecast: What does 2018 hold for Chicago?
by Jenni Scott, Managing Director--Chicago, Hays Construction

The construction industry is busy nationwide, hitting an all-time high GDP of $810.4 billion in the first quarter of 2017. Spending is up 40 percent since 2013 and AGC chief economist Ken Simonson is predicting a two to seven percent increase in spending in 2018.

Chicago, and Illinois more widely, are already seeing some of this effect, with building activity remaining high throughout the first quarter of 2018. The developer/private market in Chicago is especially strong and will continue this way through the next year, encouraging general contractors to diversify their portfolios and market sector focus to reduce the risk of being affected by any market downturns. Public funding remains stable but uncertain, which might see an increase in P3 projects to meet the serious demands on federal and state projects. The Hays 2018 Salary Guide shows that half of construction employers increased their full time staff in 2017, and three-quarters intend to increase it again in 2018. This is higher than any other sector, and could prove especially challenging with 82 percent of employers saying they face a moderate to extreme skills shortage. Illinois is experiencing a large skills gap from the recession, which forced many construction professionals to either leave the industry or move out of state. Younger generations have seen construction as a more risky career choice, opting for alternative industries such as IT related tertiary education and career paths.

The skills that are in highest demand include project managers, estimators or preconstruction managers, and superintendents at all levels. Construction professionals with 10 to 15 years of work experience are especially sought after, and with many companies still servicing projects out of state PMs and superintendents willing to travel have their choice of employers.

In the Chicagoland region we are seeing a high demand for experienced construction professionals with project experience in healthcare, retail, education, warehouse / industrial, multifamily (highrise/midrise), student housing and assisted living, as well as the commercial office, campus, or tenant improvements market sectors.

What that means for employers

Hiring is already tough, but it’s going to get tougher as the shallow talent pool is drained. Having the right talent on board is going to be a key differentiator in the market, especially when it comes to competing for projects and ensuring deadlines are met.

Employers need to adopt a proactive approach to talent acquisition. Those who wait for the right person to come to them are going to get left behind. Instead of waiting until they have an opening, we suggest construction firms be open to hiring promising candidates who become available. When you’re growing your team, bringing a great employee on today instead of in two months when you’ll have the business need will put you ahead of the competition. Move quickly when the right candidate comes along as they will often have multiple offers and are unlikely to stay available for long.

We are also seeing a lot of employers looking for candidates who are an exact match for location, sector, and project size, which will make hiring harder. Be open-minded about candidates that have gained experience working on other building types. Almost every sector has transferable skills across the industry, but many hiring managers focus in on specific industries or experience, which narrows their talent pool.

While salary is important for attraction, in the race to pay the most, only one employer can take the lead. Stand out to construction professionals by promoting other aspects of working for your company. Sell your culture, work environment, and career development opportunities to create your unique employer value proposition.

Finally, in this market your teams are at high risk of being contacted directly about potential roles. The best tool to hang on to your valuable staff is a clear career plan, so they don’t feel like they have to leave to progress. Ensure you have a well-communicated plan, with clear objectives. A strong reward and recognition program and good work culture will also help you engage and retain your workforce.

The current market holds significant opportunities for Chicago construction firms, but making the most of those opportunities requires the right team in place. Plan ahead and be proactive to ensure you have the workforce you need to stay ahead of the competition.

About the author: Jenni Scott of Hays Construction specializes in search and select/direct hire placement of construction & property professionals across the Chicago/Midwest region. Working with exceptional customers within the private sector, Jenni's primary focus is to partner with candidates and clients, using the depth and breadth of her expertise and market knowledge to ensure they make they unique match that makes individuals and companies flourish. Jenni can be reached at

Chicagoland AGC

5440 N Cumberland Ave, #302
Chicago, IL 60656

Phone: 773.444.0465
Fax: 773.444.0469