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Navigating the 'Feast or Famine' Cycle: Insights for General Contractors and Construction Workers

By Sephton Spence,

Surviving the Construction Industry's "Feast or Famine" Cycle: Tips for Workers

The construction industry is no stranger to the "feast or famine" phenomenon, a term that aptly describes the extreme fluctuations in income and workload that workers in certain fields often endure. Construction workers, in particular, find themselves vulnerable to this rollercoaster due to factors like weather, regional demand, and the availability of skilled laborers. Independent contractors are also not immune, as they face natural seasonal fluctuations and market shifts. For instance, in areas with harsh winters, construction activity can grind to a halt, only to bounce back with vigor when summer arrives.

To add to the complexity of this challenge, an astonishing 94% of contractors report experiencing moderate to high difficulty finding skilled workers, creating a persistent demand for qualified labor. In such a volatile environment, it's crucial for construction workers to be prepared for the lean times. Here are some proactive steps that can help them weather the storm:

1. Save Money During the "Feast" Periods:

  • When construction is booming, workers often have the opportunity to earn substantial incomes. It's vital to save as much of this money as possible to create a financial safety net during lean times.

2. Network and Build Relationships:

  • Building relationships with fellow construction workers, contractors, and suppliers can be a lifeline during slow periods. Joining professional organizations such as ACCA (Afro Canadian Contractors Association), and attending industry events can also help expand your network and increase your chances of finding work.

3. Diversify Your Skills:

  • Learning new skills or specializing in a particular area can make you more marketable. For instance, a carpenter might explore plumbing or electrical work to broaden their skill set and increase their employability.

4. Explore Alternative Work:

  • During downtime, consider exploring alternative sources of income, such as part-time or seasonal work. Some may even contemplate starting a side business, which can provide additional stability.

5. Stay Informed About Industry Trends:

  • Remaining up-to-date with industry trends, local job markets, and upcoming projects is essential. This knowledge can help you anticipate when work will be available and prepare accordingly.

Building on these core strategies, here are some additional tips that can further empower construction workers to navigate the "famine" periods effectively:

6. Stay Up-to-Date with Changes in the Industry:

  • Keep a finger on the pulse of the construction industry by staying informed about the latest changes, technologies, emerging markets, and upcoming projects. This foresight will allow you to adapt your skills and offerings as needed.

7. Build a Strong Reputation:

  • Your reputation matters in this industry. Consistently delivering high-quality work, being reliable, and fostering positive relationships with clients and contractors can help you secure work during slow periods.

8. Invest in Training and Education:

  • Never stop learning. Invest in your skills by attending workshops, taking courses, or pursuing certifications. This proactive approach can significantly enhance your marketability.

9. Consider Relocation:

  • While not a decision to be taken lightly, relocating to a region with higher demand for construction work can open up new opportunities and provide a more stable work environment.

Tip Number 10 is the most important of them all:

10. Take Care of Your Mental Health: - The feast or famine cycle can take a toll on your mental well-being. Prioritize self-care, seek support from friends and family, and don't hesitate to reach out to professionals if needed.

In the ever-fluctuating world of construction, the ability to adapt and prepare for "famine" periods is a crucial skill. By following these tips and adopting a proactive mindset, construction workers can better equip themselves to endure the industry's ups and downs, ensuring they have enough work and income to support themselves and their families throughout their careers.

Discover effective strategies for fostering the growth and sustainable management of BIPOC-owned construction enterprises throughout Canada.


Sephton Spence, Vice President of ACCA

Afro Canadian Contractors Association

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