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Caryn Becker on Planning for Uncertainty

Nov 16, 2021

U.S. Engineering

Between supply chain issues, worker shortages, and inflation, it’s tough being an owner, design professional, or contractor these days. How do you plan for uncertainty?


Caryn Becker, Director of Business Development

First, some recent challenges. As of September 25, a record-breaking 161 vessels were waiting to be unloaded at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Experts say this is mainly due to the shift in consumer spending habits from services to goods during the pandemic. Shipping costs from China to Long Beach have skyrocketed from $1,500 for a shipping container to as high as $25,000 because of the wait times to unload. A shortage of truck drivers is making it difficult to ship cross country and the last mile. Unfortunately, the longer shipping times and higher costs are affecting construction material and equipment lead times, too.

Due to the pandemic, there has been a drastic shift in the workforce and the types of jobs that are available. As of September, there were 10 million job openings in the U.S. and only 8.4 million unemployed workers. “Unemployed” status means these people are still seeking employment. Resignations are up 13 percent over pre-pandemic levels, and there is an uptick in retirements – 2 million more people retired during the pandemic than expected. At the same time, we still have 5 million fewer jobs in the U.S. than before the pandemic. Limited childcare and the volatility of school shutdowns due to Covid-19 have kept many women from participating the job market. Finally, the abundance of job openings are not in the same occupations and locations as the unemployed workforce. As a result, labor costs are increasing as well.


But on a positive note, as we recover from the pandemic, construction is the one sector where there are more unemployed workers across the United States than openings in the field. We have opportunities to recruit top performers in the locations where they are needed. Additionally, construction frequently offers better paying jobs than the retail, hospitality, education, and healthcare sectors, industries where most workers are women. Here lies an opportunity to retrain and entice these workers to consider the construction field. U.S. Engineering Construction (USEC) is poised to take a leadership role in this effort.

USEC is addressing these supply chain, inflation, and worker shortage concerns on many fronts. In this article, I discuss our efforts to address escalation on our projects. To do so we advocate for bringing key trade partners, such as USEC, on board early during conceptual or schematic design via design-assist or design-build contracts. This timing enables the mechanical team to influence the selection of equipment and materials that are equivalent in quality and performance, but more readily available. Similarly, it allows the mechanical teams to purchase equipment well ahead of time, to address long lead items and meet construction milestones.

We are also investing in our future. Recently, U.S. Engineering team members played an instrumental role in creating Western States Construction College, which trains apprentices while they earn credits toward degrees in construction. In addition to that great effort, we support Career Technical Training in our local high schools as well as non-profits like STEMblazers, who promote careers in science, technology, engineering, and math for young women from diverse backgrounds in middle and high school.

By improving existing processes and investing in our future workforce, we leverage our expertise to our clients’ advantage. That’s planning ahead, even when the future seems uncertain.


Sources: Cargo ships / Supply chain / Labor shortage

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