Utah contractor wants young people excited about construction

By Jenny LescohierApril 27, 2022

Craig Lundskog, finance director at Great Basin Industrial, says we need to change the perception young people have of a career in construction

Hiring is certainly a critical issue facing construction business owners right now, a sentiment echoed by the results of a recent survey of industry professionals, the majority of whom say they expect more work to come in the new year.

One example is Great Basin Industrial, a Utah-based firm specializing in industrial construction for customers working in oil/gas & chemical, power, mining, water and other industries. Craig Lundskog, finance director, said the nine-year-old company bills $100 million per year and expects that figure to double, if not triple, over the next five years.

“We employ anywhere from 300 to 600 employees, depending on how many jobs we have going at any given time. We’re able to bid and get jobs, that’s not the issue,” he said. “Our biggest challenge is employing enough properly skilled people.”

The problem centers on getting people interested in construction as a career choice. This is not a secret to anyone in construction, but there definitely seems to be a disconnect somewhere, according to Lundskog.

“We’re trying to get more trade schools involved, and we’re trying to get people from high schools to understand what we do in construction,” Lundskog said, noting the lack of female representation in the field as an example of the disconnect.

Getting women more involved in construction is definitely a growth area for us; we’re hiring a lot more women,” he said. “But a lot of those we’ve hired had to be encouraged that there were opportunities for them in construction because there’s a stigma out there that it’s not for them, but it certainly can be.”

He added, “It’s not that there aren’t available bodies out there, but getting those people interested in our industry is what we need to do to make a change.”

A career in construction can be lucrative and meaningful too

Lundskog said it’s a shame more people don’t realize the unique satisfaction a career in construction can offer.

“I’ve worked in multiple industries and it’s gratifying to work in one where you complete a big project and you can drive by with your kids and tell them, hey, I helped build that. That’s kind of fun,” he said.

High schools today often lack technical programs geared toward careers in the trades. Decades ago, Lundskog recalled, shop classes were available for students interested in working in mechanical fields. He believes there needs to be a return to that.

“Technical education has dropped off dramatically in high schools, and I think it’s been a disservice to a lot of young people because not everybody wants to go to college, not everybody’s a student, but everyone wants to be able to make a good living after they graduate,” he said. “Solving the hiring problem in construction definitely needs to start in the high schools, with more training and help to get people into the trades.”

This sentiment is not new or unpopular. It seems to be the general consensus that something needs to be done to promote the benefits of working in a trade to young people. The message that a career in construction or related field can offer a comfortable salary and meaningful work seems to have gotten lost along the way, however.

“We need to get the message in front of the right people in some way,” Lundskog said, noting that technology has changed dramatically and even fields that have traditionally resisted technological progress are now rapidly changing. 

“The construction industry has always lagged behind when it comes to technology, but things are being done differently now, and we need to get that message out there and educate people that this is an industry that’s progressing.”

Great Basin Industrial expects to have hundreds of open positions in the coming years, and Lundskog said that means the company will need to increase the efficiency with which it finds and recruits employees.

“Good candidates go pretty quickly, so the faster we can get involved, the better. How we onboard people is very important as well,” said Lundskog. “Viewpoint has onboarding software and that has definitely helped us.”

From hammers to virtual reality headsets

Technology stops for nothing, and that includes the way things are built, something Lundskog said might help when hiring young people today.

“The generations coming into the workforce right now are very tech savvy,” he noted. “One of the most popular games this year is a virtual reality game, where you put a headset on and you’re in this virtual world. That same technology can be used to show students, in a way they can appreciate, what you can do in construction.

“We’re blown away by it... being able to see a building virtually before it’s even built,” he continued. “It’s almost like you’re playing a video game, but you’re not.”

Lundskog predicted construction is poised to see a great deal more advancement in technology in the near future, and as that happens, the costs related to it will come down, to everyone’s benefit.

“We’re just starting to see what virtual reality can do for a job site. That’s going to change dramatically as we start to really use it and work through the bugs. It’s very much in the infancy stage right now, but as it’s used more, the cost will come down, which just accelerates the advancement. The old days of a hammer and saw - we’re still going to need some tools, but the tools are going to change dramatically. How we build a building in the future is going to be way different in as little as five years.”

Lundskog concluded by emphasizing the intrinsic value of working in construction.

“Being able to point to something and say, ‘I built that,’ really makes you feel good about what you’re doing. We’re making a difference,” he said. “Buildings and the way we use buildings are going to metamorphosize, especially as people work more from home, but it’s not going to change the need for construction, ever. Being part of an industry that’s been around since the beginning of time and will never go away is pretty amazing. We just need to get more people to see that.”

Survey shows hiring a critical issue for contractors

Trimble Viewpoint recently surveyed its network of customers about the challenges and trends they see in in 2022. Roughly 100 customers responded, citing hiring as one of the main issues they’re concerned about. To illustate that point, 64% of contractors surveyed say they had positive expectations for 2022, and 53% want to hire more people. Further, results said 65% of survey respondents expect to see contract values increase and 57% plan to spend more cash this year.

To see how your concerns stack up against your peers, here’s a summary of some of the survey results:

What are the biggest issues/challenges contractors are expecting to deal with in 2022?

  • Vaccine mandates/Covid-related safety requirements (35%)
  • Hiring challenges/labor shortages (31%)
  • Supply chain bottlenecks/material price fluctuations (26%)
  • Technology/workflow and productivity challenges (3%)

What do contractors see as the biggest construction technology trend in 2022?

  • Data Security/Cybersecurity (24%)
  • Digital technologies that connect workflows and address cost and margin challenges (21%)
  • Data accessibility/mobility (cloud and mobile apps) (18%)
  • Predictive analytics and forecasting/modeling tools (17%)

What industry metrics or benchmarks are contractors most interested in following?

  • Labor and Hiring (48%)
  • Cash Flow Trends (23%)
  • Project Starts/Backlogs (22%)
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