This article was originally published at NCCER.org.
No matter the industry sector or size of the job, project success often depends more on the construction superintendent than on any other individual. Their multi-disciplined role is critical to a project’s safety, schedule, quality and ultimately its profitability. While it’s well-known that the industry is facing a serious shortage of craft professionals, the critical position of superintendent may be in even greater jeopardy in the near future.
There is no shortage of research showing that companies are struggling to fill crucial field leadership roles. For instance, a 2022 Construction Industry Round Table survey reported that approximately 63% of CEOs acknowledge their firms have difficulty finding field managers. Although it is not unexpected to learn that the pool of experienced superintendents is limited, concerning trends show a widening gap between supply and demand for these roles and point to a growing need for a systematic solution to developing a reliable pipeline of superintendents and other field leaders.
Let’s examine current and near-term challenges.
The Present: High Demand & Low Supply
As with any role that requires a broad spectrum of skills and expertise, the ideal approach to filling open positions is to hire experienced candidates when possible. While the preference for adding highly experienced talent is understandable, it is increasingly becoming a less-than-realistic solution given the lack of availability of such candidates.
As noted above, difficulty finding qualified candidates for field manager roles is a widespread problem experienced by a majority of organizations. Research also shows that approximately 34,000 construction superintendent positions across the U.S. remain unfilled. Such figures leave no question about the current challenge.
The Near Future: Increasing Demand & Decreasing Supply
Further complicating the issue, an increased demand for housing, infrastructure upgrades and other projects is fueling the construction industry’s growth and thus increasing the demand for construction professionals across multiple sectors. Forecasts show that demand for field leaders will outpace growth for other positions, growing at an estimated 11% from 2020 to 2030. Simultaneously, the number of construction superintendents retiring over the next five years is estimated to decrease the number of seasoned professionals in these roles by 30%.
The current and predicted shortage of construction professionals is well-documented, often discussed and is the driving force behind many industry initiatives aimed at addressing the issue. Within the larger category of the construction industry’s workforce shortage, a widening gap between supply and demand for qualified construction superintendents and other field leaders may have an even bigger near-term impact.
The Challenge: Developing Field Leaders from Within
The success of current projects depends on qualified field leaders. The success of future projects will also depend on qualified field leaders. The ever-increasing demand for such leaders, and a clearly decreasing supply of qualified candidates, leave companies with one viable solution – to further develop their own current and future field leaders. And that potential solution comes with its own set of very real challenges.
The same widening gap between the number of qualified field leaders and the demand for their role is a major contributing factor to the challenges of their effective internal development. Industry growth amidst a shortage of field leaders creates increased workloads. The time spent on each project by seasoned superintendents and other field leaders has become so precious that participating in development or training pro