Commercial Construction Labor Shortage

In the fourth episode of our In Practice series, Josh breaks down how this labor shortage is impacting the construction field and what people in this field can do to lessen its impact.

Greiner Construction
Commercial Construction Labor Shortage

Host Heather Weerheim sits down with Josh Helgesen, principal/field operations manager at Greiner, to discuss the labor shortage.

At the on-set of the pandemic many construction projects were delayed, postponed, or shut down completely leaving many out of work. Now, as things slowly start to pick back up again, industries are still facing a lack of experienced workers to take on new jobs.

In the fourth episode of our In Practice series, Josh breaks down how this labor shortage is impacting the construction field and what people in this field can do to lessen its impact.

Construction and the Labor Shortage

In this industry, people are feeling the effects of the labor shortage in both the office and out in the field. With a lack of people to fill positions there is an increase in scheduling delays, materials are harder to get, and contractors are in high demand – meaning their fees have increased.

The labor shortage has impacted many different industries on a global scale. In construction there are a few things that Josh has found helpful to lessen the impact of this shortage – they are listed below.

Be Adaptable

Many contractors have had to take on more responsibilities in their positions, wearing many different hats to make sure projects get finished on time. This could mean having to perform activities outside of their usual routines – various forms of labor or even helping to clean job sites. Contractors who are able to adapt and take on different roles are especially helpful in making sure projects are completed on time.

An additional stressor caused by the pandemic that is impacting the labor shortage is vaccine mandates. Vaccine mandates will vary by client where some are mandating a fully vaccinated crew. This can cause some staffing issues depending on the vaccination status of a crew. Being able to adapt and move different people to work different jobs, ensuring projects are staffed appropriately, is essential for an operations manager in the field.

Connect with Industry Partners

When you’re in the business as long as someone like Josh, you begin to establish strong relationships with industry and trade partners. Being able to have a friendly rapport with peers in the same industry makes work a lot more fun and it also means you can rely on one another during unforeseen circumstances.

If you need a job filled, an industry partner might be able to help you out. If you’re looking for a carpenter, it could be as easy as making a call to a trade partner for help. This mentality of looking out for one another has really helped curb the negative impacts of this labor shortage.

Communicate with Clients

Besides communicating with industry partners, it is important to communicate with clients too. Due to the labor shortage there are delays on projects and the best way to mitigate any issues with clients is to be upfront and communicate with them on why things may take longer than before.

Another tip: plan for delays. We know that materials are harder to get and carpenters may be more busy than usual – that needs to be taken into account during the planning process.

Utilize the Carpenter’s Union

Greiner is a signatory to the carpenter’s union meaning they only hire union carpenters. The main reason behind this is that with union members there is a higher level of talent because members have to go through some schooling. It’s true that you learn more by actually working on a job site but coming into the profession with basic knowledge and experience is a huge plus.

Looking Ahead

Josh is hopeful that by being able to adapt and collaborate with industry partners the construction industry will bounce back from this labor shortage. There are a few things he is working on to bolster the construction labor force.

Bridging the Generational Gap

Due to the effects of the labor shortage, both younger and older people are looking for jobs. There are complete newbies and people on the verge of retirement and of course many in the middle. The generation gap highlights the difference in communication styles between older and younger workers.

It is not uncommon to see some of the older people on a job site being tougher on the younger crew when they make a mistake. However, this is starting to shift as the older generation is now being encouraged to take on a mentorship role.


Being a mentor to newer people on a crew means correcting mistakes but then also explaining how to fix it or how to do it right the next time. This takes away some of the stigma around the construction industry, namely that it is a tough work environment with big scary guys to talk to. Instead, through mentorship on the job the work environment is more inviting (and fun). Josh has already seen more people mentor the younger generation and is optimistic that this will inspire more people to join this industry.

Diversifying the Workforce

Diversifying the workforce is another important factor in getting more people to reenter the workforce. There are a lot of things at play here including the methods used to discover talent and educating people on the realities of working in construction.

To find talent it is a good idea to use multiple different social media platforms. Headhunters are also a great resource as they often know more about opportunities in the field. Reaching out to students at schools and colleges will also help uncover talent. However, one of the biggest factors of diversity is encouraging more women to join the field.

Construction is seen as a male-dominated field which limits the amount of people interested in working in it. By reaching out to women, dispelling stigmas around construction and educating people on the collaborative nature and mentorship of this profession, construction could appeal to women.


The pandemic has impacted most (if not all) industries across the globe, be it through supply chain disruptions, material shortages, labor shortages, or all of the above. In the construction filed it is important to face these challenges head on, be adaptable, and continue to work to improve the industry so that more people join.

Follow Greiner’s In Practice series as we continue to explore the latest trends and topics with industry leaders.

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Heather Weerheim (00:05):
On this episode of Greiner’s In Practice podcast series. We are talking to Josh Helgesen about labor shortage. Hey Josh.

Josh Helgesen (00:13):
Hi, Heather. Welcome.

Heather Weerheim (00:14):
Thank you so happy are joining us today? Happy to join you. So, Josh, first off, what is your title here at Greiner?

Josh Helgesen (00:21):
I’m a principal slash field operations manager. So oversee the field and that consists of now it’s ever growing. We’re at about 55 guys and gals out in the field now. So probably up about 15, 20% than we were a year ago at this time. So,

Heather Weerheim (00:40):
And how has your role evolved? When did you start out at Greiner? Yeah. Have you had every title? Yeah.

Josh Helgesen (00:45):
Yeah, pretty much over the last 20 years, 20 plus years. I started off as an apprentice carpenter. Don’t know really how I got into this industry other than my wife kinda gave me this opportunity with Greiner and way back when as an apprentice I was looking for work. I remember sitting on the couch, watching the trade centers go down and getting the phone call that there was a spot available for me if I wanted it as a carpenter. So I came in about a week after the trade center ordeal happened talked to Dirk Hanson and Kevin Bader at the time. And they said, yep. You know, being, being young and dumb that it was, we’ll try out.

Heather Weerheim (00:05):

On this episode of Greiner’s In Practice podcast series. We are talking to Josh Helgesen about labor shortage. Hey Josh.

Josh Helgesen (00:13):

Hi, Heather. Welcome.

Heather Weerheim (00:14):

Thank you so happy are joining us today? Happy to join you. So, Josh, first off, what is your title here at Greiner?

Josh Helgesen (00:21):

I’m a principal slash field operations manager. So oversee the field and that consists of now it’s ever growing. We’re at about 55 guys and gals out in the field now. So probably up about 15, 20% than we were a year ago at this time. So,

Heather Weerheim (00:40):

And how has your role evolved? When did you start out at Greiner? Yeah. Have you had every title? Yeah.

Josh Helgesen (00:45):

Yeah, pretty much over the last 20 years, 20 plus years. I started off as an apprentice carpenter. Don’t know really how I got into this industry other than my wife kinda gave me this opportunity with Greiner and way back when as an apprentice I was looking for work. I remember sitting on the couch, watching the trade centers go down and getting the phone call that there was a spot available for me if I wanted it as a carpenter. So I came in about a week after the trade center ordeal happened talked to Dirk Hanson and Kevin Bader at the time. And they said, yep. You know, being, being young and dumb that it was, we’ll try out.

Heather Weerheim (01:26):

No carpentry experience?

Josh Helgesen (01:28):

Little bit. I know I grew up in the carpenter carpentry world, the construction field, my dad, you know, with my dad’s hands on stuff. Like I grew up in it, but had no idea that this is what I wanted to do. I went to college for a little bit decided that schooling wasn’t for me. So I, in and out of school for about four years and finally decided that I had to do something with my life and needed a job. That’s how I got into the apprenticeship program and work my way up from there. From, you know, being an apprentice carpenter to the foreman level all the way to superintendent to now one of the five owners.

Heather Weerheim (02:02):

Awesome. And so part of your role at one point really was managing field operations and staff. So scheduling and

Josh Helgesen (02:09):

Yeah, I mean that for us that’s as a carpenter at Greiner, you’re doing that anyway. You’re helping manage that piece. So that kind of morphed into, yeah, I can do this. What’s the next step. And those opportunities were basically there. There was no playbook for me. It was just an opportunity that, yeah, I can do that. So I went for it and then those next opportunities came and when to get it in, you know, it just kind of evolved from there. So yeah,

Heather Weerheim (02:37):

Sure. No one and the reason I ask that is because it’s, we’re coming to a point where we’re talking about labor shortage and what that looks like. So from my side when I’m talking to clients or when I’m wearing a project management hat, I see higher fees, I guess, or higher costs for carpenters. And then also scheduling delays because of the term. Cause I hear about labor shortage. So that’s what, that’s the chatter in the industry, but what does that really look like for you?

Josh Helgesen (03:09):

Well, it’s there, us at Greiner. I don’t, we’re not experiencing that labor shortage, I would say maybe put that in quotes, labor shortage we’re

Heather Weerheim (03:18):

Internally, dealing with the carpenters

Josh Helgesen (03:20):

Internally, we’re actually right now, it’s really good for us, meaning that we’re having people come in and seeking us out and looking for work. I know in the field, as far as trades go there, there is a shortage there’s, there’s not enough workers out there, let alone probably enough work to keep them busy. Thus as the reason why they’re seeking out new opportunities elsewhere or opportunities that they can’t be given at their companies now. And I’d like to think Greiner, you know, is being the general contractor that they are there’s endless opportunities here for people. So it’s actually working out in our favor. Yeah. But as far as the field goes yeah. We’re experiencing that and how we’re dealing with that is you know, obviously we’re being upfront with our clients and making them aware of this, not only of the labor but materials, you know, which is another thing with labor, you know, how the materials are made and so forth.

Josh Helgesen (04:16):

But we’re putting that into our schedules. We’re putting that out on the table to begin with. So we’re able to deal with that. And then the other thing is too, we have these relationships with all these trade partners on that we’ve had for 30 plus years. So we’re able to rely on them to help us out when we’re in a pinch. You know, if we have another contractor of some sort that, that doesn’t have enough guys to help out, we can call someone up and to help us. And that’s been awesome.

Heather Weerheim (04:43):

Yeah. And now I, you mentioned, you know, being able to obtain some new talent and I love it guys in the field. I don’t think people realize this, but the guys and gals in the field, they talk and they know, they know all the GCs that have the work and they, they know they hear about culture and they gossip. So it sounds like they’re hearing, oh, Greiner has some work coming up or this GC has some work coming up, so they will make the, they’re willing to make the switch because they know that there could be it.

Josh Helgesen (05:12):

Yeah. I don’t know if I don’t know that it’s just work. It’s, you know, we’ve always said that if that right person comes along, we’re going to find a spot for them. And that’s kind of what we’ve done. We’re not necessarily in a hiring frenzy nor do we necessarily need the people. But there’s some really good talent out there that we don’t want to slip by us and not grab onto them. So that’s what we’re doing which is only gonna help us in the longterm because it’s gonna help us get work. Our efficiencies are gonna get up there, pick up in the field more than they already are. Same goes for the office side of things. You know, the talent level is just escalated a little more just because people out there looking at,

Heather Weerheim (05:57):

Then I’m curious to know what’s the age range of people that are coming to us or that you’re hiring on. Does it vary? Is it

Josh Helgesen (06:04):

It’s totally varying. I mean, there’s brand new apprentices. There’s apprentices that have had a year or two experience. And then there’s guys and gals that are on the verge of retirement. I just had one the other day, come in and talk to him. He’s going to retire in March. Maybe not interested in something like that, but you know, we’re looking for a long-term partner to be on board. I mean, we invest a lot of time into training our folks and getting them to, up to speed with the Greiner way and processes and how we do things. So a five months stint, really, it’s not going to help us out, even though they might be a great person. And they might do great work. It’s just, that’s probably not what we’re looking for, but,

Heather Weerheim (06:44):

Well, that’s what I was curious to know. Okay. So if we’re going to this labor shortage, is there in, are they incentivized if they’re close to nearing retirement in the union, does it make sense to stay on a little bit longer or are they like, I’m done get me out of here. What’s the attitude of the, of that person. That’s

Josh Helgesen (07:03):

Okay. You have all the attitudes. You mean there’s some that are, that are you know, I’m done, I’m done dealing with all of the things that I have to deal with. I’m done with it, I’m moving on and retiring. I’m gonna enjoy life. And then there’s others that you know, we’re, we have in particular that we keep giving new opportunities to, right. Maybe it’s not just superintendent work, it’s it’s superintendent work plus mentoring, somebody getting out there and getting to know some of our younger guys and gals and, and helping them through those processes and teaching them of what they learned over the years. It’s just a new opportunity for them to help us grow, helps them grow. It gets a little more exciting for them than running work day to day.

Josh Helgesen (07:49):

It’s just, you know, we’re trying to adapt and trying to figure out those different ways where we can get some more excitement behind the business. Right. so I know we struggled with it in the past and you know, our, my head’s constantly turning, you know, those are the things that I think about coming into work every day is like, how are we gonna make this day better? How are we going to make Greiner better as a whole? And these things just pop in, oh, let’s try this today. Let’s give this guy an opportunity to go do this, or it’s working,

Heather Weerheim (08:12):

It’s working.

Josh Helgesen (08:13):

I think it’s working. I really do. Yeah.

Heather Weerheim (08:15):

You could tell there was some excitement Jake’s energy. Like he wants to be here. He wants to be, he can tell he’s a part of something bigger. And I have to say that that’s probably because of mentors or people above him helping guide him and direct him and people that I love that. Okay. I want to talk a little bit about the union. Okay. So Greiner is signatory to the carpenter’s union. What does that mean? And I know it’s easy for you, but not everyone knows what that means.

Josh Helgesen (08:45):

Signatory means. I mean, we’re just, we we’ve signed an agreement with the union that we would hire carpenters out of that are strictly union guys. Right. in the benefit of that is I think that talent pool is a little escalated versus the non-union. We know that they’re going through or they have gone through schooling at, at the union hall that, yes, it teaches you some things. But yes, you do learn more out in the field, but at least gives you a sense of what to expect. Right. it helps that we know they’re being trained by good people. And then a lot of those, those folks that are down there have been sitting in our shoes and been in the field and have done this before. So there’s that piece that they’re not going to get with. Non-Union not being, so you’ve heard that, but just, and it helps us with, I dunno, just, I think the talent pool, and as far as subcontractors and, and trade partners go, it just escalates that. Right. It’s

Heather Weerheim (09:42):

Better. Yeah.

Josh Helgesen (09:45):

Yeah. And why are we signatory? I don’t know. I mean, there’s, I think it’s big that big reason, you know, we know what we’re going to get when we, when we hire a union contractor versus non-union

Heather Weerheim (09:57):

Fair enough. How are we opening up doors for more diverse labor force?

Josh Helgesen (10:03):

Hmm. Well, that’s a huge thing. Right? So you know, the era that we live in now these there’s people that are separating themselves and making these companies the way they are today. Right. so we’re definitely going down that avenue and we have been, we’re constantly looking at different ways to diversify, you know, if it’s using our social media platforms, you know, more of those social media platforms versus one or two things we’re getting out to the schools, the colleges we’re finding talent there. We’re relying on some of the head hunters that are constantly calling everybody. And I know everybody gets called. But there there’s some good talent

Heather Weerheim (10:45):


Josh Helgesen (10:47):

People are actually picking up the phone and talking to these people and really some good talents coming that way, too. Just because you, or I may not know of an opportunity that’s out there and this head hunter does, whoa, wow. Let’s take a look at it. And we’ve been finding some people that way, but diversifying is huge, you know, even with you know, possibly, you know, looking at more of the women’s side of things, we wanna, we want to empower the women and we want, and we want to get more of that in house and kind of do more of that. So maybe it’s partnering with someone like that, that that’s a women owned business where we can do some projects together. Yeah.

Heather Weerheim (11:21):

And we’re currently working on that too with a partner and hope to see that work and grow. But I think it’s there again, you know, talking to talking in the previous podcast about that just the stigma behind what carpentry or what construction looks like. And I think it can be intimidating to women. And I think somehow we just have to change our culture or help make it more inviting. And maybe I think education, right. Education educating about the opportunities that can be, that can be had and what it really does look like to be.

Josh Helgesen (11:56):

Yeah. And we just have to have, you know, we have to go in with an open arms. We have to, and we have changed maybe the mindset of the field that we have to, you know, have arms open where we can accept women into this. We can train them. We can help them get to the levels that the, that the guys were at before too. I mean, and then we see that women are taking over those positions and which is really exciting. There’s some great women out there that are getting into this and I see more and more of that happening. So yeah, we’re definitely trying to encourage that.

Heather Weerheim (12:28):

So I want to talk to you a little bit about the different generations across the board of labor. So I kind of feel like there was maybe there’s an old school mentality of like working as a Sup in the you’re kind of rough and gruff and and you’d yell and scream in order to get things done. How has that changing, how has that culture changing in the field or is it

Josh Helgesen (12:50):

It’s still there? There’s some of that there. But I think it’s you hear about it when it does happen now, before you never used to we used to get yelled at and screamed at, and we put our tail between our legs and, and do better the next time, because if we didn’t, you know, it was going to happen. Right. we have to tread a little lightly now with that, you know, there’s I don’t know, offensive things that you say there’s people take things the wrong way, even though you may, it might not mean it that way. We just, we gotta tread lightly that and that’s those situations, but yeah, it’s very challenging. It’s a day to day thing that we deal with. And we’re dealing with it across the board. It’s just how we handle situations. You know, we just can’t get ourselves in trouble.

Heather Weerheim (13:35):

I’m assuming though, that that mentality or that way of thinking or way of working, does it work still or that to be

Josh Helgesen (13:43):

No, no, no. We can’t yell and scream anymore. I mean, we can sit and have those difficult conversations. But communication lines have to be opened up more so than they were in the past. You know, it’s okay to call someone out if they’re doing something wrong, but teach them how to do it the right way. Don’t just say, you’re doing it wrong and we can do it better. Teach them how to do it. So that’s part of that mentoring piece that we’re trying to help with as well. But yeah, it’s hard. Yeah.

Heather Weerheim (14:11):

It’s pretty hard. I can imagine. And how are some of the older gen, the older generations of workers? Are they receptive to the newbies? Do they are,

Josh Helgesen (14:20):

Yes. They get frustrated at times. But I think they’re receptive. I think they can tell pretty much right away if they’re going to be received well or not. If someone is going to listen for one yeah, I think that potential we can, we can weed that out pretty quickly. I think you know, we can’t have someone that’s sitting on their phone texting and doing their stuff all day long. It’s just, you know, we’ll put that away. We’re here to work. So those are signs that we can throw our red flags up when we need to and make changes as necessary, but start the

Heather Weerheim (14:51):

Conversation. Am I missing anything about labor shortage or is there anything else you want to add?

Josh Helgesen (14:57):

Not as far as labor shortage.

Heather Weerheim (15:00):

We talked a lot about labor shortage just in the carpentry side. Do you have any comments about, and it sounds like you have it under control internally with us. And if we are short on labor for, to staff our jobs, and it sounds like we can easily contract other companies to help us now, what about those trades that you know, the electricians, the painters, the sheet rockers, what have we seen for them as far as labor shortage? Are they feeling the same things we are? Worse?

Josh Helgesen (15:28):

I can, yeah. There’s sensing the same stuff. Again, there’s different roles for some of those guys out there too that are, let’s say an electrician there’s new opportunities for them to, there’s an electrical work to be done. There’s other things for them to do. So I see our trade partners opening up some of those doors too, which is kind of cool to see versus you’re going to go sit home for a week or, you know, you’re going to go on the bench or whatever it is. But I think they’re trying to adapt to try to keep good talent and keep their core people around in the past that wouldn’t happened just because of the labor shortage, right? I mean, how I let go of this guy, he’s going to go maybe find some work, some other else, and I’m not going to get him back. So I’m going to figure out a situation where I can have so-and-so go do this for the week on and help deliver a product, or I don’t know it’s but that’s what we’re kind of seeing, but it’s, it’s definitely like pulling teeth out there to get people to show up.

Heather Weerheim (16:29):

Yeah. Fair enough. And do you think that, why do you think that is?

Josh Helgesen (16:35):

I don’t know. It’s, I mean, obviously COVID has a lot to do with it. You know, it wasn’t like that two years ago.

Heather Weerheim (16:44):

Okay. You bring up a really good point. So, because I had in my notes here, vaccine mandates, I know that that’s causing some problems with getting, the right with staffing and staffing jobs, depending on what their mandates are. What’s the latest,

Josh Helgesen (17:04):

Ah, well, it’s changes every day. There are certain clients that are requesting full vaccination, plain and simple. I mean, there are exceptions to the rules, but those exceptions necessarily don’t apply to certain environments. So we’re having to staff those with what they’re requesting which has been a challenge because, you know, I mean, people are one side or the other and maybe some in the middle. We just, we can’t force it. We can’t I mean, everybody’s entitled to what they, what they want to do. So we’re just, we’re adapting. We’re getting around it. And we’re staffing those as, as we can for now, hopefully this stuff gets behind us and we can, we can keep moving forward. But if it starts coming in closer, closer on, you know, more mandates, more mandates than, yeah, we’re definitely going to have an issue and it’s not just going to be us.

Heather Weerheim (17:56):

I hope it changes soon too Josh for all of our sake. Well, so I know. Okay. So we’re hiring people on to be carpenters and we’ve got some good talent. We have jobs are fluctuating, the ebb and flow, or the expectations that a carpenter has to maybe wear a few hats and not only might be doing carpentry, but have to do some labor, some clean up some.

Josh Helgesen (18:18):

Yeah, I think we could do a better job at setting those expectations of that. Cause we’re, we throw guys into it, whether they like it or not. But it just, I hope that they speak up if they’re not comfortable doing that, but everybody seems to be just taking it and running with it and it seems to be working and that’s the way it always has been. And it’s always worked.

Heather Weerheim (18:39):

I’m sure some are more receptive than others. I get it. You’re paid to do a job as a carpenter.

Josh Helgesen (18:43):

Yeah. You’re hired on as a carpenter right and then I, I’m not doing carpentry work and I’m calling that sub for you or I’m making sure that that sub shows up or I’m cleaning up that mess or I don’t know. That’s one of our uniquenesses right. At Greiner. We offer that. And that’s how we can run the work that we do run. We didn’t, if we didn’t have carpenters to help us do that. There’s when we don’t do it.

Heather Weerheim (19:09):

What’s the funnest Part of your job?

Josh Helgesen (19:10):

The funnest? Oh my gosh. I know. I don’t know. I go back to always the people that’s the biggest thing to me. I mean, we have a great group of people here and that’s what makes me, and that’s how I enjoy coming to work everyday. And if it wasn’t for that I don’t know. I mean, the work works, the work works fun sometimes. It’s, I mean, there’s some fun projects. I mean, there’s some, there’s some bad ones too. It’s just, you know, the people, if the people are great the people that we meet along the way, the relationships that we’ve developed over the years, that’s the coolest thing. Even outside of work, those relationships keep going. So that’s one of the things I tell a lot of these clients, you know, when we do a project with them, you like, you almost get to know them better than your own family. And I don’t know. I think they like to hear that. And I think that’s the best part.

Heather Weerheim (20:02):

Yeah. I would say that’s,

Josh Helgesen (20:04):

What’s the best part for you?

Heather Weerheim (20:05):

I would say. I mean, I’ll be cheesy too. It’s, it’s definitely the people coming to work and laughing. And I had conversations with like one of our PMs, he found out we were doing a podcast and he texted me, you guys probably like 20 ideas of podcasts, but they were kind of, they’re funny ones. Yeah. And I was dying. So we’re going to get them on the podcast at some point, but that’s it, it’s just fun to have these conversations with our we’re all in this together. We’re all trying to do good work. We’re all working in construction. It can be really tough. Sometimes it is. It is really hard. It’s hard to be a project manager. It’s hard to be a carpenter. You’re always on a, so you have to have an opportunity to laugh, make fun of yourself. Talk about admit maybe some of the mistakes that you have made in this industry and make fun of yourself. And that’s always fun.

Josh Helgesen (20:54):

Yeah, I think we do that really well here. We’re always making fun of each other, poking jabs here and there. That’s what makes it fun and that lightens the mood. And that also brings the energy right behind that to help us go get this next one. So that’s a cool part.

Heather Weerheim (21:10):

Actually, it’s having those bonds. And then when you go to get the next one, when you have that opportunity to win a project and go in for an interview and you just have that camaraderie and past experiences. And I think it really shows and shows through to our clients or new potential clients. It’s

Josh Helgesen (21:26):

Fun for sure.

Heather Weerheim (21:28):

Josh, thank you so much for joining us. Will you come again?

Josh Helgesen (21:33):

Yeah, yeah. So much fun. Yeah.