How construction firms can lure young adults to workforce

About 2 million construction workers lost their jobs during the Great Recession of 2007-2011, more losses than in any other industry.

Unfortunately, the industry has been unable to make up for this significant loss of skilled labor and continues to struggle to fill many jobs.

For example, the National Association of Homebuilders estimates there are about 200,000 construction jobs that have not been adequately filled because of the labor shortage.

The gap between the number of job openings and the availability of a skilled labor pool to fill them will continue to widen and be a problem beyond this year with many new infrastructure projects on the horizon.

While the positive news of growth of new construction projects should be exciting for the industry, it will exacerbate the challenge for firms to staff large projects with qualified skilled workers.

Why is this situation such a challenge? Here are possible explanations:

< Fear of the construction industry.

There still are many people scared to join the construction industry. The Great Recession and layoffs saw the loss of many skilled longtime workers and professionals.

Consequently, many millennials entering the workforce avoid construction as a career because of the instability of job security shown in the past.

< Safety concerns.

There are concerns about personal safety in the industry, a concern heightened when less-than-qualified workers are hired for projects.

The lack of skills and proper safety training on projects can lead to harmful and catastrophic results.

< Lack of emphasis on and awareness of alternative paths beyond a traditional four-year college.

Another reason why fewer people enter construction is the lack of awareness and lack of emphasis on alternative opportunities in the trades. For too long, most young adults have been guided and encouraged toward a traditional four-year university and never made aware of the potential of trades.

Parental pressure to go to college also plays a role in this hesitation to pursue a job in construction.

< Lack of apprentice and internship programs.

The Great Recession had a negative effect on the construction industry with fewer apprenticeships and internships available.

Apprenticeship programs are important since they typically give the company a chance to “test drive” new employees before hiring them full-time. They also give the apprentice valuable hands-on real world experience and an inside view of the company.

One downside of fewer apprenticeship programs is employers hire workers before their skills have been evaluated. It also means fewer young people gain hands-on experience before entering the field.

What can be done to address these concerns and attract skilled workers to the industry?

Basically, the industry must demonstrate its value as a career to the future workforce. Some actions:

< Dedicated outreach to young adults, particularly millennials.

Firms must partner with high schools and vocational schools to inform and demonstrate to young adults that construction is a career worth considering and pursuing.

This means speaking to students in classrooms, appearing at career events to talk with students about opportunities in construction, providing content to appear on school websites and associated career links and using other opportunities to talk directly with students about the industry.

< Training programs.

Construction firms need to invest in training for all employees to create a more highly skilled workforce. Firms must develop and offer extensive training for all new employees, refresher training courses to enhance skills for all levels of employees, training to learn new skills and mentorship programs that encourage experienced senior skilled workers to share knowledge – before they retire – with younger workers.

< Safety training.

Improving safety on construction sites can help reduce the fear of working in construction. Firms also should use training from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other sources to train new employees to improve safety.

Now is the time to address the challenge of skilled labor shortages in construction, particularly because more new jobs in the industry are on the way.


Glenn Ebersole, Professional Engineer, is market development manager at High Concrete Group LLC (www.highconcrete.com) in Denver, Pa. He can be reached at gebersole@high.net or 717-336-9413.

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