The latest issue of the Civil Quarterly (TCQ) from Dodge Data & Analytics reveals that most civil contractors are optimistic about the volume of work they expect in 2021 and 2022, and they anticipate both revenue and profit margin increases for their companies as a result. However, that optimism is overshadowed by increasing concerns around skilled worker shortages, including an expectation of rising costs for talent and reduced skill levels in the available workforce.
The study reveals that the volume of work for civil contractors has already increased, with 40% reporting increases to their backlogs, compared to 25% last quarter. This quarter also marks the second consecutive quarter of growth of backlogs growth to ideal levels after hitting a nadir in Q4 2020.
Civil contractors’ outlook for the near future is also positive, with two-thirds expecting a robust market in the next 12 months. The positive trend continues with more than half of civil contractors expecting increased revenues in the next 12 months, and nearly half (42%) anticipate that their profit margins will grow in that same time period. Considering the survey was conducted from April 13 to May 12, this optimism was likely fed by the expectation of the national infrastructure bill funding.
However, this has led to striking increases in their concerns about finding skilled workers. Sixty percent of contractors say their need to hire skilled workers in the next three months is high, a 17-point jump from Q4 2020 (the last time the survey included workforce data). When looking at all contractors who will be hiring, including those with more moderate needs for workers, 69% report that they expect a high degree of difficulty in finding workers, up 11 points from Q4. Yet the biggest concern is the cost of workers, with 81% of civil contractors anticipating the cost of skilled workers to increase.
These challenges lead to consequences that will affect the industry as a whole:
- 65% say that they are challenged to meet schedule requirements due to the shortage of skilled workers
- 51% are currently challenged to meet project budget requirements because of increased labor costs
- 49% are putting in higher bids, which could inflate the costs of work proposed under a major package
The study also featured research on two areas and ways to address these issues: opportunities for upskilling the workforce and technology adoption trends.
Opportunities for Upskilling
The current study revealed that when it comes to training efforts, 13% of civil contractors take a minimal approach, while 36% have a robust, ongoing training program for new workers as a long-term investment to increase their skills for their company. Yet most recognize the importance of training their field staff in a variety of skills. More than three-quarters consider training on community, leadership and digital skills, along with site-specific safety issues, of moderate to high value for their field staff. The majority (79%) rely on training from supervisors, but over half (56%) now take advantage of online training tools as well. Nearly all civil contractors (86%) see the need to draw more workers under 30-years-old into the industry, with 63% believing this younger talent brings different skills, such as the capacity for faster technology adoption and the ability to collaborate digitally, to their projects.
Technology Adoption Trends
The study also re-examined the technology adoption trends first featured in the Q2 2020 report. Even before the pandemic, the use of technology onsite has been an area of growing interest for many contractors. Two particular technologies—equipment tagging and utility detection tech—are a clear standout with notably wider adoption in the first six months of 2021 than in all of 2020. Technology adoption for utility detection and drones has also seen a notable increase as they are now widely accepted and more widely used. However, technology adoption for virtual and augmented reality is still low as they are used by fewer than 10% of contractors.
The wider use of onsite technology is important because of the positive impact it can have on productivity, which is the top benefit expected by contractors from their use of these technologies. As workforce concerns grow, the need for greater productivity from existing workers will continue to grow in importance.
TCQ provides a quarterly snapshot of the current business health of contractors operating in this dynamic environment and explores trends in the industry: The report is the result of a partnership with Founding partner Infotech®, Platinum partner Hexagon and Gold partners Command Alkon and Digital Construction Works, and is based on original research collected from civil contractors and engineers. It is available for free download to help all those who have a stake in the U.S. civil construction industry. Future editions will continue to address a wide range of related topics providing a comprehensive view of this complex and ever-changing segment of the construction economy. Click here to download a copy: https://www.infotechinc.com/thecivilquarterly/.
About Dodge Data & Analytics: Dodge Data & Analytics is North America’s leading provider of commercial construction project data, market forecasting & analytics services and workflow integration solutions for the construction industry. Building product manufacturers, architects, engineers, contractors, and service providers leverage Dodge to identify and pursue unseen growth opportunities that help them grow their business. On a local, regional or national level, Dodge empowers its customers to better understand their markets, uncover key relationships, seize growth opportunities, and pursue specific sales opportunities with success. The company’s construction project information is the most comprehensive and verified in the industry.
As of April 15th, Dodge Data & Analytics and The Blue Book — the largest, most active network in the U.S. commercial construction industry — combined their businesses in a merger. The Blue Book Network delivers three unparalleled databases of companies, projects, and people.
Dodge and The Blue Book offer 10+ billion data elements and 14+ million project and document searches. Together, they provide a unified approach for new business generation, business planning, research, and marketing services users can leverage to find the best partners to complete projects and to engage with customers and prospects to promote projects, products, and services. To learn more, visit: construction.com and thebluebook.com.
About Infotech®: Info Tech, Inc., DBA Infotech (Infotech) is a leading SaaS solutions provider for the infrastructure construction industry. Informed by DOT relationships and decades of experience, Infotech develops software solutions that bridge the gaps between owners, consultants, contractors, and other project stakeholders. Whether it be tools for construction administration and inspection or secure online bidding, all of Infotech’s solutions are built to increase transparency, productivity and the availability of data. Infotech is the developer of Appia®, Bid Express®, and Doc Express®, as well as the official contractor for AASHTOWare Project™. For more information, visit infotechinc.com.
About Hexagon: Hexagon is a global leader in digital reality solutions, combining sensor, software and autonomous technologies. We are putting data to work to boost efficiency, productivity, quality and safety across industrial, manufacturing, infrastructure, public sector, and mobility applications. Our technologies are shaping production and people related ecosystems to become increasingly connected and autonomous – ensuring a scalable, sustainable future.
About Command Alkon: As the provider of the leading Supplier Collaboration Platform for Heavy Work, Command Alkon solutions deliver supply chain digital collaboration across the heavy construction community. CONNEX, a technology platform built for the industry, enables business partners to automate and integrate business process, capture real-time visibility into heavy material orders and deliveries, and share knowledge to promote certainty of outcomes. Command Alkon is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama and has offices in locations around the globe. For more information, visit commandalkon.com.
About Digital Construction Works: Digital Construction Works (DCW) is a leading industry application and technology integration services and solution company. We help owner-operators and constructors accelerate the adoption and use of digital workflows, incorporate digital twins of assets, implement best practices, and, if needed, include the right combination of fit-for-purpose third-party technology to improve construction planning, design-build, operations, and project outcomes. We take current disparate third-party applications and integrate them so they all work together, and they can be managed in a single, secure, integrated platform with project insights. Learn more: www.digitalconstructionworks.com