Cebu construction industry in need of more skilled workers

CEBU construction companies are grappling with a shortage of skilled workers, which is impacting their ability to bid on projects, meet construction timelines, and keep up with the demand in the construction industry.

“There is a shortage,” said Cebu Contractors Association (CCA) Inc. president Francis Gerard Cañedo of Fransec Ventures Corp. during a media briefing over the weekend.

As the labor shortage continues to impact construction companies, CCA officials said they are turning to technology for assistance and are multi-skilling their existing workforce. Others also turn to outsourcing workers from places outside Cebu.

Cañedo said Cebu and the entire country have been facing this labor shortage for quite some time, losing skilled workers to countries in the Middle East that offer higher wages.

While the CCA does not have specific data on the number of workers Cebu is losing to other countries, CCA auditor Kevin Sean Lim of Zumyrphil Construction Inc. cited his company’s own manpower challenge, saying they currently have only five operators left to operate 10 cranes.

According to the recent unemployment report by the Philippine Statistics Authority, the construction sector in the country experienced a decline in employment, with 65,000 job losses in April 2023.

Outsourcing workers

Cañedo said Cebu contractors are now sourcing manpower from various islands in the Visayas and Mindanao, resulting in higher labor costs.

Besides the exodus of skilled construction workers to other countries, Cañedo said fewer Filipinos are drawn to careers in construction, adding that the new breed of workers is now attracted to work in business process management companies.

“Commercialization has really affected our industry. We suffer from this image of a blue-collar industry where people see no bright future. They’d (the younger generation) rather go to glamorous fields like becoming a barista or a vlogger. Our skilled workers are being exported and we can’t compete with the international market, especially on how much they (other countries) are offering,” he said.

Tapping technology

Lim, chairman of the 2023 edition of PhilConstruct Visayas, said they “don’t think we will be able to fill in the shortage, but technology could help us.”

“We are also in the phase of multi-skilling our people to increase productivity, which leads to better wages,” he said.

Lim said companies are now incorporating new technology tools into their operations, such as artificial intelligence in the design-making process and the use of pre-fabricated materials like concrete, steel and wood.

Cañedo said they are turning to tech to solve the manpower shortage, and “the industry needs to keep up with tech adoption, especially since construction is one of the industries that are slow to embrace technology.”

Confidence

Despite the challenges faced by the industry, Cañedo expressed confidence in its growth.

“There are so many projects in the pipeline. For contractors, projects are synonymous with better days ahead,” he said.

He specifically mentioned that growth would come from government projects following the continuation of the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build program.

Under the “Build Better More” infrastructure program, the Marcos administration has approved 194 high-impact infrastructure flagship projects worth P9 trillion. Of these projects, 123 were initiated during the Marcos administration, while the remaining 71 projects were from the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte.

Growth in the private sector, however, remains a challenge as the awarding or construction of projects will depend on the performance of other industries.

“Say for example, in tourism. If we see more arrivals coming to Cebu, more tourism-related projects will be built,” said Lim.

“Real estate in Cebu was heavily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. There was a slump in sales, leading developers to postpone the construction of new projects. Additionally, challenges such as fuel prices, logistics, and supply chain disruptions have caused prices of construction materials to rise. But we remain optimistic about what lies ahead,” said Cañedo.

“But times are improving. While we haven’t reached the pre-pandemic level yet, we are making progress,” added Lim.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, in 2022, the industries that contributed the most to annual growth were wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles at 8.7 percent; manufacturing at five percent; and construction at 12.7 percent.

The country experienced a 7.6 percent growth last year.