Construction’s Resiliency Playbook: How to Future-Proof Your Workforce

resiliency people in construction workforce

There are plenty of admirable traits that are constantly linked to successful people and organizations. Creativity, innovation, and courage are often lauded as the characteristics that people and companies should possess in order to thrive and be competitive. 

But one thing that’s sometimes overlooked is the importance of resiliency. This may be because resiliency only kicks in when times are tough, so we don’t see it as often. It’s easy to be creative and brave when things are going well, but being resilient — i.e., having the ability to recover after adversity — is extremely challenging.

And if we learned anything from 2020, it’s that resiliency is king. The organizations that survived and thrived in the past year were the ones that found ways to bounce back after being faced with unprecedented challenges. 

We’ve seen incredible resiliency in the construction industry. Owners, general contractors, designers, and everyone in between had to learn new workflows, adjust to different working conditions, and adopt forward-thinking mindsets. Doing all of that in a short amount of time is astounding, but construction professionals rose to the challenge, and the industry is stronger because of it. 

That said, many challenges remain. The industry is still getting used to the new normal. And according to FMI, construction traditionally lags 12 to 18 months behind general recessions, which means we’ll continue to face tough periods ahead. 

As such, resiliency will be more important than ever, and construction professionals need a new playbook to achieve that. Building a resilient organization requires you to transform your teams, processes, and technologies, so they’re in a position to easily recover when met with adversity.

This is what we’ll be exploring in a three-part series on resiliency in the next coming weeks. We’ll be drawing examples and insights on how to be resilient in construction and offer actionable steps you can take.

Today, we’ll talk about building resilience in your workforce. People and teams are the true heartbeat of the industry. We’ll explore examples from thought leaders and leading companies to learn how they are creating resiliency in their workforce and future-proofing their businesses.

Workforce Challenges That Inhibit Resiliency

To build a resilient workforce, you first need to understand the factors that could inhibit their ability to bounce back after adversity. 

In construction, a major challenge that people are facing is the lack of skilled craft workers. Research from the Associated General Contractors of America found that 81% of firms find it difficult to fill salaried and hourly craft positions. 

agc construction covid results 2020

Labor shortages mean that there are fewer people working on projects, which limits the number of jobs you can take on and increases lead time.

The skills gap also presents a number of challenges to the workforce. According to a report from the Autodesk Foundation and Monitor Institute by Deloitte, the shift toward technology, especially machine learning, artificial intelligence, and automation, could also widen the skills gap, especially for trade workers without a four-year college degree. While technology advancement is great, many construction professionals don’t have the right skills to manage it. In fact, according to the recent 2020 JB Knowledge report, “Lack of Staff to Support the Technology” is one of the top struggles of tech adoption.

Needless to say, not having the right people and skills will hinder your firm’s ability to succeed in the future. That’s why it’s critical that you invest the time and resources to build teams that can navigate the modern construction landscape.

Let’s look at some of the ways you can do just that. 

How to Build a More Resilient Construction Workforce

Build a Culture of Innovation

Innovative companies tend to be more resilient because these firms are always finding new ways to adapt and compete. That said, breeding innovation has to be a conscious and continuous effort. You can hire all the right people, upgrade your tech stack, and map out a strategy, but you won’t become innovative unless it’s truly a part of your company culture and you have your entire team behind you. 

As Tauhira Ali, Construction Technology Group Manager at Milwaukee Tool, puts it, “No amount of strategy, technology, or executive vision will succeed unless employees are unified in their company mission and are all driven towards achieving mutual success. The companies that will build the future beyond 2021 are the ones who empower people and culture to produce results.”

How do you empower your team and foster a culture of innovation? Begin by giving your employees time to ideate and create. Many companies vocally encourage employees to “think outside the box,” but team members are usually too busy with day to day responsibilities to work on anything else. 

If you want your teams to innovate, make sure they have the time and space to do so. Or better yet, actively create space for out-of-the-box thinking. Make things official by hosting company-sanctioned events dedicated to innovation. 

The Seattle-based ENR Top 600 specialty contractor McKinstry did just that. The company was founded in 1960, but despite being around for decades, McKinstry has never lost its focus on applying emerging technologies to today’s business problems. 

In 2020, McKinstry held a Hackathon, a two-day competition that brought together nearly 50 employees with different backgrounds and expertise. The objective was to cook up innovative solutions to reduce waste from the design and construction processes.


The Hackathon — a first of its kind at McKinstry — proved to be a success. Not only did it encourage people to come up with new ideas, but it also allowed team members to work with colleagues who had different backgrounds and expertise. It was both a learning and team-building experience that strengthened McKinstry’s innovative culture. 

Dace Campbell, Director of Project Management in Construction at McKinstry, said, “We wanted to accelerate our ability to do discovery and ideate around some of the initiatives on our technology roadmap. Rather than take six to 12 months before we could develop a solution, we wanted to tap into our employees and essentially crowdsource potential solutions faster. At McKinstry, we place a heavy emphasis on taking care of our people and encourage them to be constantly curious. The Hackathon aligned well with those values of innovation and putting people first.”

After the event, participants were asked an open-ended question about their number one takeaway from the Hackathon. More than two-thirds of them volunteered that their top takeaway was the chance to collaborate with others with whom they don’t work with on a daily basis. In this pandemic, many of us interact productively with coworkers on our teams, but staff are craving cross-team collaboration and happenstance interactions (“water cooler conversations”) that they don’t easily get in a virtual, work-from-home setting. Collaborative events, even virtually, ultimately foster employee engagement and in turn, can strengthen the resiliency of an organization. 

Focus Heavily on Diversity

Diversity leads to innovation and better business performance, both of which can help build resiliency. There’s plenty of evidence — both quantitative and anecdotal — that prove this. 

According to research compiled by SCORE, gender-diverse companies are 21% more likely to outperform in the market, while ethnically-diverse firms are 33% more likely to outperform. In terms of innovation, SCORE notes that “Companies with above-average diversity earned 45% of revenue from innovation” and “Businesses with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue due to innovation.”

What exactly is it about diversity that makes businesses more successful, innovative, and resilient?

For starters, diversity brings together multiple backgrounds and perspectives. When you have a variety of experts and professionals working together, you’re bound to come up with more ideas and make better decisions.

“I think the top strategy and mindset that construction firms will need in order to build resiliency and future proof their businesses is diversity,” says Angela Battle, Director of Subcontractor Diversity & Development, at Sellen Construction.

“To be competitive, stay at the forefront of innovation, and attract superior talent, they must foster a culture of inclusion. A diverse workforce offers a wider range of experiences and skills leading to improved decision making, enhanced employee engagement, and retention, as well as increased profitability.” 

Strong diversity and inclusion initiatives also make people feel better about working at your company. And when employees are empowered, they’ll perform at a much higher level.

As Kim Bates, Corporate Service Leader, DPR, puts it, “When you have folks who are feeling good about themselves, their colleagues, and the culture of the organization, they’re going to produce really great outcomes. This naturally garners innovation and creativity; this, coupled with a sense of belonging, is a win-win.”

Learn more about how companies can actively promote diversity inclusion within their firms in our recent blog

Upskill Your Workforce for the Future of Construction

Construction’s future is only going to get more advanced when it comes to technology. With construction firms struggling to find staff to support new technologies, it’s imperative to start upskilling the employees you do have. If you invest in your employees, you are also investing in your company’s future. The stronger your teams’ skillsets are, the better they’ll perform in the succeeding months and years. 

As such, you must equip your team with the knowledge and skills they need to operate in the future. Part of doing this lies in identifying and recognizing the new roles and jobs that they’d have to fill. 

As Lisa Campbell, Chief Marketing Officer, Autodesk, points out, “New technology, new automation will actually help us impact the world so that what we design and build is going to be better. And if you’re a worker today, that’s what you have to look forward to is to figure out how to use this technology to make the world better.”

When leveling up your workforce, you need to think along the same lines. What skills do you need to develop in your employees to design and build better? Pay close attention to the tasks that you’re streamlining with technology, and consider the skills that your teams would need to facilitate that process. From there, you can make decisions on what courses or programs to implement. 

Most importantly, it takes a commitment to continuous learning. Deloitte’s research on the future of work reveals that continuous learning must be integrated into firms’ long-term business strategy. To produce positive business outcomes, the workforce must stay up-to-date on technological advancements. Learning and development programs allow employees to acquire new skills proactively and put them into practice on the job. Without such a program in place, firms risk losing client work due to skills shortages and operating in a reactive sense to market demands.

One key learning area that you may want to focus on is data and analytics. According to the Jobs of Tomorrow Report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the new labor market will see a higher demand for roles involving data and artificial intelligence. These things will play an increasingly important part in the future of construction, so having data-driven employees will give you a competitive advantage.

A Resilient Construction Workforce is Central to Future-Proofing Your Firm

People are — and will always be — central to organizational success. That’s why if you’re striving to build a better and more resilient company, you need to start with your workforce. 

Prepare your firm for the future by building diverse teams and instilling a culture of innovation. Upskilling your employees is also a must, so see to it that they’re learning the skills required to thrive in the months and years ahead. 

And if you’re looking for more insights on construction resiliency, check out our new edition in the series. In part II of our Resiliency Playbook, we dig into how construction firms can create resiliency in business processes and models.

Grace Ellis

Editor in Chief, Digital Builder Blog, Autodesk

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