Despite the potential for industry growth, the nation is grappling with a construction laborer shortage and it’s already having a colossal impact on the local level.
Around 65% of homeowners say they’re most likely to repair their roof as a result of weather damage, but without enough skilled laborers in the construction, roofing, and other related industries, it’s likely to become difficult to find enough workers to tackle necessary jobs. Since the recession, construction firms and other businesses that rely on skilled labor have had trouble filling open positions. It’s a problem that many in the industry blame on younger generations who don’t value physically taxing work.
A recent poll found that only 3% of young adults who had a specific career path in mind were interested in construction, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that only 31% of construction workers nationwide are younger than 34 years of age. Nationally, the median age of construction workers is 42.7, and when those workers retire, younger employees are not taking their place.
Many schools no longer offer shop programs, and some blame the trades industry itself for not maintaining strong apprenticeship opportunities. But others feel that Millennials aren’t interested in hard work or learning a trade, and that they prefer to turn to technology for their income instead.
However, the problem is exacerbated in many areas of the country that are experiencing a housing boom. In Spartanburg, North Carolina, many laborers were forced to change careers in 2008 and 2009 during the housing slowdown, a trend that was echoed on a nationwide scale. Between April of 2006 and January of 2011, the entire construction industry eliminated more than 40% of its workforce. But the real estate market has changed since then. Now, they’re not able to build enough houses to meet the growing demand.
Not only are people not very interested in entering the field, but the ones who are aren’t always up to accepted standards. Construction firms have reported that they’ve had immense difficulty finding qualified workers to hire, including carpenters, electricians, plumbers, HVAC installers, roofers, and more. In fact, 70% of 1,600 construction firms surveyed are having a tough time finding hourly trade or craft workers, and bonuses, benefits, and higher pay rates haven’t done much to attract employees. And since 69% of all requested remodeling jobs are for kitchen renovations, it’s clear that experienced workers are needed more now than ever before.
Some of those in the industry, like Aaron West, the CEO of Nevada Builders Alliance, think the solution lies in making young people see that there are other ways to be successful in life than going the now-accepted college route.
West told the Sierra Sun, “We need to start changing the perception that you need a college degree. We need to tell kids that it is OK to get an entry-level job. Kids have it in their heads that they are going to wait to work until they have a four-year degree.”
But others insist that the industry needs to shift its focus to two groups: immigrants and women. In areas that have growing populations of immigrants and have lots of females (and particularly women of color) who need jobs, focusing on those workers to fill the employment gaps seems only natural.
The University of Michigan’s Labor Resource Center Director of Research, Susan Moir, told Bisnow: “The traditional labor pool of young, white men who are the children of construction workers does not exist anymore. They went to college. There’s a pool of workers that need good jobs, and that is women, particularly women of color.”
Considering that the U.S. Department of Labor held its third annual National Apprenticeship Week earlier this month and that National Women in Apprenticeship Day took place on November 16, there’s no better time to focus on women in the industry than now. After all, the future is female.
Ultimately, if construction firms truly want to grow to meet the demand across the country, it seems like they may have to start thinking outside the box to do it.