How Arkansas Construction Industry Will Succeed In 2023
Between inflation, supply chain issues, a looming recession and more, 2023 promises to be a challenging year for Arkansas’ construction industry. Those of us in Construction Management and Civil and Civil Engineering at UA Little Rock are front-line to one of the biggest challenges facing the industry in the coming year: the labor shortage.
I would argue that industry-academia partnerships are the only way to succeed in the future.
Higher education must cover the entire spectrum of human resource development.
Indeed.com has 635 Construction Project Management jobs in Arkansas. Most of these require a college degree in construction management or a related field. Our programs produce dozens of graduates each year, with a 100% acceptance rate, but educators cannot solve this problem alone. We must come together to help people get the education each individual needs to grow and thrive.
The construction industry needs to appeal to young people by providing a pathway to the American Dream.
The Arkansas construction industry offers jobs with health insurance, retirement plans, and the opportunity to earn enough money to support a family.
Right now, young people don’t get the message. Instead, they have many misunderstandings.
A 2022 study by Stanley Black & Decker found that 1 in 5 high school seniors believed the annual starting salary for most qualifying jobs was less than $20,000. Arkansas industry leaders such as Bernhard, Clark Contractors, Darragh, Environmental Protection Associates, James A. Rogers, Kinco Constructors, Nabholz Construction, Staley Electric and others invest in our on-campus construction labs, providing real-world opportunities and connections. In addition, they benefit from hiring our highly qualified graduates.
The construction industry needs more leaders willing to create opportunities.
Part of the rich history of our department is the role Howard Williams played in its founding. Over 30 years ago, at a time when high schools were on the brink of extinction, Howard and several others proactively knew that Central Arkansas needed collegiate-level programs in construction to expand career opportunities for individuals in the field.
As Administrator of the Arkansas Contractors Licensing Board in the early 1990’s, Howard provided the seed capital for our first classrooms and laid the foundation for our construction management degree. His unwavering support for the education and advancement of young Arkansas construction professionals has created a thriving program that is critical to our state economy today and demonstrates this forward-thinking.
It is an example of the forward thinking and generosity that have helped our industry weather its storms and the kind of leadership we need today.
Construction must welcome women.
There have never been more opportunities for skilled workers in underrepresented communities to succeed in construction in Arkansas. But currently only 12% of construction workers are women. We need to engage pioneering teachers like Gozde Gursoy and Anne Turner here at UA Little Rock to help us understand how to create a more welcoming environment for women off the field. We need to take care of Dr. Cathy Riggins, Howard’s daughter, who runs the Vilonia Pathways Academy in partnership with UA Little Rock. She is at the forefront of attracting the young people we need to face the hiring crisis and break down stereotypes in the industry.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Hank Bray has served as the Chair of the Department of Construction Management & Civil & Construction Engineering at UA Little Rock since 2018. The opinions expressed are those of the author.