It's Labor Day Weekend. A new jobs report is out this morning from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Where does the issue of housing's chronic labor capacity challenge and its impact on housing supply constraint fit into our new conversations on innovation in housing?
Have a look first at this analysis from the National Association of Home Builders of the geography of residential construction employment hot zones.
Now, consider this. The challenge of bringing new talent--whether it's skilled technicians or semi-skilled workers--is going to be with us for an indeterminate future. Single-family starts haven't hit two-thirds the level they're likely to reach over the next few years, but the risk around spasms of insufficient man[and women]power on the job sites in Colorado, Texas, some of the Florida submarkets, and a number of other locations will plague completion and delivery schedules throughout the next 90 to 120 days.
Innovation starts playing a role in building information modeling, scheduling, plug-and-play components, cartridges, and assemblies, in data that eliminates decision-gaps and workflow traps, in tools that speed right-the-first-time construction, and in lighter, more portable, more pliable materials.
Beyond that, innovation is an attractor of young talent, because it feeds off itself and looks forward as a career pathway. It's manufacturing's, and marketing's, and services' answer to the varied and sundry uncertainties and doubt that surround housing's business and skills community right now.
Who really knows the answer as to how much labor--in the sense that we've always used the term--will play a role in producing and marketing and financing the homes and communities America will need five years from now, or 10 years from now? Once sensors start to go the way of microchips in cost, and once 3D and 4D printing kick in to a second or third gear in cost and time, and once drones start delivering pieces and parts to the job site, and once robots reach the next level or two up in assembling structures or installing conduit, who knows how we'll be referring to the labor capacity squeeze we know now?
Likely, we don't know what we don't know about our needs for trained and skilled sticks and bricks contractors beyond the next five year horizon. What's less in question and scarcely doubtful is our firm's need to attract a fresh breed of talented, technologically and digitally and data-fluent future leaders into our development, building, engineering, design, marketing, and finance ecosystem.
It begs the question. Which challenge would we rather have? Not enough trained labor? Or no need for human labor? Something to think about on Labor Day Weekend. Meanwhile, let's be grateful for the work forces who do show up at the sites every day, who are critical to both the completions builders need to deliver and who may very likely be home buyers sometime during the course of their careers.