David Harwood, senior vice president at Terracon, standing, moderated the workforce development panel, from left to right: Ted Hoffman, business development manager at The Lane Construction Corporation; Steve Skippen, senior project manager at Skanska; and Sofia Berger, senior vice president at Louis Berger.

By Mark Holan, editorial director, ARTBA

A panel of transportation design and construction industry leaders discussed a wide range of workforce recruitment and retention challenges during an Oct. 25 session at ARTBA’s Northeastern Regional meeting.

Skanska Senior Project Manager Steve Skippen said that many people who left the transportation construction workforce during the Great Recession of a decade ago still have not returned.

He said Skanska has taken extraordinary measures to recruit construction workers, especially for projects outside major urban areas. For a job in Pensacola, Fla., for example, the firm blitzed billboards in nearby Alabama and Mississippi.

Even before the recession, many professionals drifted into IT and finance careers rather than engineering, said Sofia Berger, senior vice president at Louis Berger. Now, there’s a big shortage of mid-career professionals with 10 to 15 years of experience.

To retain mid-career professionals, and attract younger professionals, firms have to offer more than just competitive salaries, Berger said. Training and professional development opportunities, and other “cultural initiatives,” are increasingly important, whether the availability of informal “lunch and learn” programs or the firm’s philanthropic commitments.

She cited the new Women in the Workplace 2018 report from LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, which reveals a disconnect between firms’ reported commitment to gender diversity and the fact women continue to be underrepresented at all levels. Louis Berger participated in the report, which also shows that women are staying in the workforce at the same rate as men, contrary to conventional wisdom.

Ted Hoffman, business development manager at The Lane Construction Corporation, said workers and professionals are more reluctant to move for job opportunities than in the past.

“It’s a war out there for talent, especially the 5- to 10-year experience group,” he said.