By Dian Zhang
The construction industry is facing a severe labor shortage. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of construction industry workers is 42.8, with young workers under 34 accounting for less than one third of the total workforce. A different report from the U.S. Census also finds that new hires of younger construction workers continue to trend down. Millennials—currently the largest labor force in America—do not seem ready to take over those who are about to retire. One of the biggest hurdles to overcoming the labor shortage has become how to attract younger generations to enter the home building field.
Home services firm HomeAdvisor recently published a report that identifies current barriers to filling construction labor jobs, and offers tips to help builders overcome the issue. The company surveyed 282 home building/improvement professionals in fields like remodeling, plumbing, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, roofing, and contracting projects.
Why aren’t young people pursuing construction jobs? One reason is the perception that white-collar jobs are more respectable than blue-collar jobs. A survey by the Associated General Contractors of America, cited by the report, finds that high-skill occupations like carpenters, sheet metal installers, and concrete workers have the highest labor shortages. The HomeAdvisor report, citing research from Kimmel & Associates, reveals that many young people may not be interested in the “dirty work” associated with skilled labor jobs, and would prefer to earn a college degree in order to pursue traditional professions.
Lack of professional exposure and training processes in the construction field are also to blame, according to the report.
“Over the past several years, American high schools have phased out vocational programs and encouraged students to focus more on obtaining a four-year college degree — thereby reducing in-school exposure to skilled labor trades,” said Marianne Cusato, a HomeAdvisor housing expert and architecture professor at the University of Notre Dame.
So, how to woo young workers? The report gives out four suggestions to builders:
- Rebuilding the image of construction works. According to the report, 61% of skilled laborers believe that there’s a lack of exposure to building occupations for younger generations. They believe that more young people will be encouraged to join the work force after knowing that the home building industry, as one of the country’s most important and stable economic sectors, is well-paid, skill-intensive, and respectable.
- Offering alternative educational opportunities. It is important for construction professionals to cooperate with education institutions and policymakers to establish an educational system that prepares young people to work for the home building/improvement industry. This method can also provide younger generations with more choices, other than the four-year college degree.
- Bringing back mentorships and apprenticeships. The report reveals that mentorships, apprenticeships, and family support are the most important drivers of initial professional interest in the home building industry. Therefore, establishing mentorship and apprenticeship programs that connect young people with experienced industry professionals will be an effective way for builders to pass along career wisdom and provide specific feedback to young learners.
- Inspiring entrepreneurship. According to the report, about 60% of millennials say that business ownership is their primary motivation when they begin their chosen profession (others attribute that motivation to the perception that entrepreneurs benefit from flexible hours and autonomy). By emboldening entrepreneurship in the home building industry and searching for new, innovative ways to achieve goals, builders will be able to attract more young people (although more on the business side of the aisle).