je dunn construction master logo

The Self-perform solution to construction labor shortage

the look ahead


The final quarter of 2023 saw the U.S. construction sector grapple with the effects of higher interest rates and an uneven economy. Overall starts for nonresidential construction took a 13% tumble compared to the previous quarter. This slowdown is expected to persist at least until the Federal Reserve cuts rates, tentatively forecast for mid-year. With more accessible funding in the latter half of 2024, demand should pick up, leading to modest growth of between 1%-3% for the year. While material prices seem to be stabilizing, certain areas like concrete remain volatile. Labor shortages remain a persistent challenge. Overall, we don’t necessarily see the makings of a recession ahead, but it is anticipated that stagnant growth in the economy at large will limit growth for most construction verticals in 2024.

Play Video

We examine an aging labor force, construction labor force development efforts and field innovations in this issue’s Current Events.

Local Market Overviews

Stay informed with what is happening in your local market. Download your localized report now!

National Construction Indicators

activity & pricing metrics

Self-Perform Spotlight

In this spotlight, Chris Cole, National Self-Perform Director, discusses the ongoing construction labor force shortage and how self-perform can be a solution to this ongoing issue while simultaneously diversifying the talent pipeline for a career in the industry. Last year, JE Dunn completed almost $600 million in self-perform work and close to 90% of our projects utilized some form of self-perform.

“By taking on self-perform work, the general contractor sources, hires, and trains talented and hard-working individuals who want to pursue construction trades as their career.”

Chris Cole
Vice President,
National Self-Perform Director

Current Events

Aging Labor Force

The construction industry is staring down a slow-moving obstacle — a workforce that isn’t getting any younger.

Construction Labor Force Development Efforts

With an aging population and an ever-changing technological landscape, attracting and retaining skilled labor is vital for continued growth and development.

Field Innovations

An aging workforce, a tight labor market, and rising demands for safety and productivity are further motivating construction companies to find new areas of innovation.

The construction industry is grappling with a labor shortage crisis that could be felt on jobsites across the country for years to come. One of the main contributors to this problem is a lack of trained trade workers. FMI’s 2023 Talent Survey found that 93% of field leaders, superintendents, and project managers surveyed had trouble hiring qualified workers1. This problem has been brewing for a long time, and there are two key factors at play: an aging labor force and a lack of educational opportunities to support careers in construction. The construction workforce is not getting any younger. In fact, about one in five construction workers is 55 or older2. With experienced, skilled craft workers at or nearing retirement age, the need to promote and diversify the talent pipeline has never been more evident. Unfortunately, the educational landscape is adding to this labor shortage issue, with a decline in the number of trade schools, vocational degrees, and the growing trend of pursuing four-year college degrees. Together, these factors have resulted in more people leaving the construction industry than joining it. As these underlying issues have been bubbling, the industry has been growing rapidly for decades, putting more pressure on the labor market. The emergence of several mega projects across the country has worsened the situation by draining the already-limited labor pools and, in many cases, keeping skilled workers busy for years at a time. A recent workforce survey conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America and Autodesk found that two-thirds of construction firms have reported delaying projects due to labor shortages3. A real-life example of these issues coming to a head occurred in Arizona, where the TSMC semiconductor plant was postponed because they did not have enough trained workers to finish the project4. These labor shortages are costly and have required general contractors to look for solutions.


Self-perform is a term that has always been associated with general contractors. It means that a general contractor uses their own resources to deliver a critical scope of work like concrete, carpentry, or steel. This means that the contractor handles all aspects of the scope, from estimating and managing the work to providing skilled craftspeople, equipment, and materials. The self-perform advantages for owners are numerous and include:
  • Better Control of Safety
  • Budget and Cost Certainty
  • Improved Quality
  • Schedule Certainty
Aside from these advantages, self-performance enables general contractors to contribute to solving the craft labor shortage. By taking on self-perform work, the general contractor sources, hires, trains, and retains talented and hard-working individuals who want to pursue construction trades as their career. It offers a path for those interested in the trades a chance to see how fulfilling a career in the skilled trades can be. Self-performing general contractors provide many positive benefits to the industry and can be part of the overall solution to the skilled trade worker shortage.

Self-Perform: JE Dunn

At JE Dunn, we are proud of our self-perform work across the country. Over 1,400 skilled trades men and women, field supervision, full-time staff, and specialized teams within self-perform make us stand out. While we still need trade partners to complete a project, we believe that the more self-perform work we do, the more we can ensure certainty of results. Last year, JE Dunn completed almost $600 million in self-perform work. This revenue was completed in scopes such as concrete; rough and finish carpentry; acoustical ceilings and drywall; miscellaneous and structural steel; masonry; precast installation; installation of doors, frames, and hardware; cartage and storage services; tilt-up concrete; and other specialties. Close to 90% of our projects utilized some form of self-perform. The entire process begins with dedicated estimators and project managers who work with owners and design teams to ensure the design is optimal for the scopes we are self-performing. The self-perform estimating process is transparent, and we provide regular budget estimates that match the cost certainty throughout the project. During the buyout and construction phase of a project, our dedicated project managers, field supervisors, and skilled trades workers deliver certainty of results in terms of safety, quality, efficiency, and schedule. JE Dunn is committed to investing long term in our skilled trades workforce. We offer an academy for skilled trade workers and apprentice programs that both create opportunities for growth and develop the field leaders of tomorrow.  Additionally, through our Building the Future program, we are introducing an entirely new generation of K-12 students to the possibilities and benefits of a career in construction.

Self-Perform: Prebuild

Self-perform is emerging as the go-to solution to address industry-wide labor shortages, and prebuild is the bridge that brings everything together. JE Dunn has a prebuild location in Kansas City, Missouri. The main goal of this facility is to collaborate with our self-perform teams across the country to transfer tasks from the site to a controlled environment. Our self-perform teams engage with our prebuild team from the beginning to identify and perform as much work as possible at this facility. This enables more flexibility and efficiency for our field workforce. By bringing work from the field into a controlled environment, we improve the safety and productivity of our workforce while also improving the quality of the finished product. The controlled environment and safe working conditions are also a selling point to grow our workforce. Ultimately, the use of our prebuild facility will allow for fewer people in the field to complete more work.


The skilled trades workforce shortage will not be solved by a single solution; rather, it will require many intentional actions and collaborative endeavors to reduce the current gap while preparing for the future. Self-performing is one of those key actions. JE Dunn has 100+ years of experience delivering this quality and filling this need and can better staff projects in a labor-challenged industry. Our clients can relax because self-perform provides something that helps everyone breathe a little easier in this tumultuous labor climate: guaranteed labor.  

The construction industry is staring down a slow-moving obstacle — a workforce that isn’t getting any younger. An aging labor force threatens to stall progress, compromise quality, and potentially set the industry’s capacity constraints back decades. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median age of a construction worker in the U.S. in 2022 was 41 years old, slightly lower than the median age of 42 years old among the total U.S. labor force1. However, when you compare the same BLS data from 2011 to 2022, a startling trend is apparent: Construction workers are aging quicker at four times the rate of the total labor force.  

This trend isn’t confined to our national borders; other developed nations like Japan and Germany face similar demographic challenges. The baby boomer generation, a once-mighty pillar of the industry, has entered or is approaching retirement age, leaving a vast void in experience and expertise. Several factors contribute to this “silver wave”: 

  • The Exodus of Boomers: With the post-war generation nearing retirement, their departure creates a significant skills and knowledge gap that younger workers may struggle to fill.
  • Negative Industry Perception: Construction jobs are often stigmatized as physically demanding, risky, and lacking career advancement opportunities, deterring younger generations who seek cleaner, safer, and more tech-oriented careers.
  • The Widening Skills Gap: The industry’s specialized skillset isn’t readily available in the general workforce. With fewer young people entering construction, the gap between required skills and available talent widens, further crippling recruitment efforts. 

This aging workforce casts a long shadow over the industry’s future. Project delays, ballooning costs, and compromised quality become grim realities that bring many potential problems to light. A lack of skilled labor, such as idling cranes due to a shortage of qualified operators, can lead to projects grinding to a halt, missing deadlines, and escalating budgets. As seasoned workers retire, their specialized knowledge and skills are at risk of being lost forever when it comes to work like intricate bricklaying techniques or specialized welding expertise. And finally, the industry is acknowledging the safety concerns that come with an aging workforce as their physical capabilities may decline. For instance, seasoned laborers might struggle to lift heavy beams while younger apprentices may lack the experience to navigate hazardous environments.  

The construction industry stands at a crossroads: Will it crumble under the weight of its aging workforce, or will it find a way to adapt and thrive? The answer lies in a collective effort to recognize the challenge, understand its complexities, emphasize recruitment and retention efforts, and explore innovative solutions. This is not just an industry issue; it’s a societal one, with ramifications for infrastructure development and economic growth.


With an aging population and an ever-changing technological landscape, attracting and retaining skilled labor is vital for continued growth and development. This demands a multifaceted approach to labor force development, encompassing everything from apprenticeship programs to embracing automation and fostering diversity. The industry is facing challenges related to:

  • Aging Workforce: With the median age of its labor pool increasing, proactive measures must be taken to ensure knowledge transfer and prevent skill gaps.
  • Skill Mismatch: The industry demands specialized skills not readily available in the general workforce. This mismatch between required skills and available talent can hinder project completion and innovation.
  • Negative Industry Perception: Construction jobs often suffer from negative stereotypes, portraying them as physically demanding, risky, and lacking career advancement opportunities. This perception deters younger generations from entering the field.

To address the evolving needs of the construction industry, a focus on labor force development is crucial. The most common strategies seen are:

  • Investing in Apprenticeship Programs: Robust apprenticeship programs, combining classroom learning with on-the-job training, can equip the next generation with the necessary expertise to bridge the skills gap. These programs can cater to diverse skillsets and interests, attracting a wider talent pool.
  • Embracing Technology: Automation and technological advancements like robotics and 3D printing can alleviate physical demands, improve efficiency, and attract younger, tech-savvy workers. This doesn’t replace human workers but creates a collaborative environment where technology complements human expertise.
  • Promoting Diversity and Inclusion: Creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for women, members of minority groups, and veterans can help access a vast pool of untapped talent and enrich the industry’s perspective. This diversifies the workforce while fostering innovation and ensuring a fairer representation of society.
  • Enhancing Industry Image: Promoting the rewarding aspects of construction careers, such as good wages, job security, and the satisfaction of building tangible landmarks, can attract younger generations. Highlighting career advancement opportunities, training prospects, and the dynamic nature of the industry can further dispel outdated stereotypes.
  • Collaboration and Partnerships: Governments, industry leaders, educational institutions, and workers themselves must collaborate to develop effective solutions. By sharing best practices, investing in training programs, and promoting career pathways, stakeholders can collectively tackle the labor force challenges.

Labor force development in the construction industry is not just about filling vacancies; it’s about building a sustainable future for the sector. By investing in people, embracing innovation, and fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce, the construction industry can ensure a steady flow of skilled talent, paving the way for continued growth, development, and the creation of resilient infrastructure for generations to come.

The challenges are significant, but the opportunities are boundless. By prioritizing labor force development and embracing positive change, the construction industry can transform itself from a sector facing a workforce crisis to a dynamic and thriving engine of progress, shaping the cities of tomorrow and leaving a lasting legacy on the world we build. Labor force development is not a one-time solution but an ongoing process requiring continuous adaptation and innovation. By remaining committed to building a skilled and diverse workforce, the construction industry can secure its future and continue to be a vital force in shaping the world around us.

An aging workforce, a tight labor market, and rising demands for safety and productivity are further motivating construction companies to find new areas of innovation. Two of those areas, wearable technology and the internet of things (IoT), have particularly exciting potential. These tools are transforming the worksite, offering solutions to age-old problems, and pushing productivity to new heights.

The field of wearable technology, or wearables, covers things that workers on jobsites physically wear to improve performance, safety, and efficiency.

  • Exoskeletons: Lifting heavy materials becomes effortless with exoskeletons that take the strain off workers’ backs and shoulders. While the goal here is safety, these exoskeletons not only reduce injuries but also increase productivity and allow older workers to remain active longer.
  • Smart Glasses: Augmented reality (AR) built into safety glasses can overlay digital information onto the physical environment. Workers can visualize blueprints on real-time footage, receive step-by-step instructions for complex tasks, and even consult experts remotely through AR video calls.
  • Smart Hard Hats: These hard hats are equipped with sensors, cameras, and communication systems that can help protect users from falling objects to dangerous levels of noise or exposure to harmful gasses. The hat can alert others if something has happened to the wearer.
  • Wearable Sensors: From monitoring vital signs and fatigue levels to tracking location, physical conditions, the environment (temperature, etc.), and movements, wearable sensors offer a wealth of data for safety and efficiency. Most sensors feature a self-alert button that can notify a supervisor of and send help to an accurate location They can also alert workers to potential hazards, prevent accidents, and optimize workforce deployment.
  • Layout Robots: A robotic printer that prints the floor plans of the project right on the deck. The design ensures better accuracy and coordination between trades on project sites.

Beyond individual workers, the IoT connects tools, equipment, and materials into a digital symphony. Sensors embedded in everything from concrete beams to heavy machinery provide real-time data, enabling intelligent decision-making and automation.

  • Predictive Maintenance: IoT sensors monitor machine health, predicting potential issues before they occur to eliminate surprise on-site breakdowns. This allows for proactive maintenance, minimizes downtime, and ensures smooth project flow.
  • Asset Tracking and Management: IoT-enabled tracking systems can eliminate lost tools and misplaced materials. Real-time location data keeps everything organized, optimizing material usage and reducing waste.
  • Automated Processes: Repetitive tasks like material handling or data collection can be automated with robotic systems guided by IoT data. This frees up skilled workers for more complex tasks, improves accuracy, and boosts overall efficiency.

These innovations are not just theoretical possibilities; they’re making a real difference on construction sites around the world:

  • Construction giant Skanska implemented exoskeletons in Sweden, reducing worker fatigue and boosting productivity by 20% in certain tasks.1
  • Shimizu Corporation in Japan uses smart glasses for remote support, allowing experts to guide on-site workers in real time, even for complex tasks like nuclear plant decommissioning.2
  • By digitally connecting sensors in manufacturing and assembly, companies like Bechtel are optimizing prefabrication processes, reducing on-site construction time and waste.3

Adopting and embracing these technologies requires more than just investment; it also necessitates a cultural shift within the industry. Construction companies need to embrace training programs and create workplaces that value data-driven insights and technological literacy. Workers, in turn, need to adapt to innovative technology and instruments and view them as collaborative tools, not replacements, for their skills.

The future of construction is powered by the potential of technological innovation. By harnessing these tools, the industry can overcome workforce challenges, boost productivity, and build a safer, more efficient future for workers and projects alike.

No data was found
No data was found