Stress and anxiety in construction are some of the largest contributors to the industry’s mental health crisis. Continuing our conversation on mental health in construction, we are taking a closer look at the building trades and what can be done to create an environment that reduces stress and increases confidence. Reducing stress and decreasing mental health issues on the job site will result in an overall stronger and smarter labor force. It could also propel the industry out of its perpetual state of plateaued productivity, so more projects get completed on time and at budget. So, how can we get there? Let's start with tailored educational programs and on-the-job training.
How to combat stress and anxiety in construction
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, "Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, and it is often undiagnosed or untreated. Conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance problems, especially when unaddressed, increase risk for suicide." Anxiety and stress in construction are two symptoms that can be addressed from the start if the industry embraces offering a solid foundation of quality training.
Let's consider a parallel industry known for putting its people in stressful and anxiety-inducing situations. The U.S. Military focuses inordinate energy on training new recruits. They drill basic skills to a level of muscle memory to make sure they're second nature when an extremely stressful situation arises. Every soldier needs to learn and memorize certain basic tasks, the soldier’s creed, and battle drills before being allowed to move on to the next phase of training. Each individual must understand their duties and responsibilities in order to ensure their squad, platoon, company, and overall military unit can accomplish their tasks as efficiently as possible.
This is how the construction industry should approach training its newest members. In-depth training is proven to reduce stress and anxiety. In turn we can reduce the number of people in the industry who suffer from substance abuse, the number of depressed workers, and the number of suicides.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, “Evidence suggests that states that increase the level of education of their workforce see greater productivity.”
Other benefits of job training and education
Consider an industry focus on education to ensure the next generation of construction professionals is a highly trained building force. Such a shift will not only dramatically improve mental health but also see other benefits.
A focus on education will by virtue increase the amount of early exposure our youth are getting to the trades. Right now, lack of exposure and basic formal instruction in schools is one of the leading causes of the labor shortage. Students will be able to understand and master the basic skills being taught in their training programs or schools more quickly than those who are seeing everything for the first time.
A more highly trained workforce will also benefit companies and owners. Take electrical, a trade that requires a tremendous understanding of materials, procedures, and processes. The sheer number of different types of connectors, wires, boxes, etc. requires a lot of concentration and domain knowledge. Imagine if a first-year apprentice were tasked to grab a handful of connectors but came back to the area they were working in with something completely different. What would typically happen next is the electrician with the apprentice would then have to put their tools down to walk to where their materials were staged, not always close by, and get the correct material for the job. Now imagine how many times this occurs on larger job sites where the labor shortage has a greater effect and more immediate on-the-job training happens, slowing progress. This not only slows this team down but also adds undue stress to the individuals to make up for lost time. This is not to say that on-the-job training shouldn't occur on the job sites, but rather a "crawl, walk, run" structured education program will ensure workers have mastered the basic tasks of their chosen trade.
Across the industry, whether union or non-union, there should be a comprehensive step-by-step training schedule that focuses on mastering the basics. Refresher courses will then help solidify those skills.
Well-trained workers are more confident and productive. Confidence and productivity lead to less overall stress and anxiety in construction.