Solving the Labor Shortage: Investing In Students Today for a Better Workforce Tomorrow

They say children are the future, but unless the construction industry improves recruiting standards, the industry might continue to struggle to find talent.

Baby Boomers, the preeminent construction workforce demographic, are retiring out of their jobs, but young people are not filling in. The construction industry is severely lacking when it comes to under-25 workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this age group represents a mere 816 of the total 11,181 workers.

According to Fox Business, 78 percent of construction companies struggle to fill salaried and craft positions. Times are changing, and recruiting practices need to change too. Changes to marketing, internship opportunities, and most importantly, diversity initiatives can all help the construction industry attract new talent.

 

Reshaping the Narrative

Builder conducted a study to understand why the construction industry struggles to recruit young talent. They found that only 3 percent of young people want to pursue a career in construction. Among the reasons, young people primarily cited difficulty and the physical nature of the work as major deterrents.

A career in construction has been unjustly stigmatized by the younger generation. False narratives perpetuated by shortsighted rhetoric include “construction doesn’t pay well,” or “construction isn’t fulfilling.” These misconceptions must be quashed early and often if the industry wants to appeal to young talent.

Programs such as the Associated Builders and Contractors student chapters are in place to overcome these institutional barriers. ABC offers college students on-site experience, expert guidance, and networking opportunities to help empower young people within the industry.

Other programs seek to capture students even earlier. Many high schools offer vocational training for school credit, and these programs tend to be successful. In fact, one Oklahoma technical center sees an average 94 percent placement after completion.

Education is the first line of defense against construction attrition. School outreach programs have proven successful in re-educating young people about the professional, financial, and personal merits of a career in construction.

 

Internship Programs

Engage prospective employees through internship or apprenticeship programs. It is well known that success in a trade starts with shadowing a superior. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship: Students want to build a resume; you want help on the job.

Project managers can entice the next generation of workers through part-time involvement. Not only can this stoke enthusiasm for the industry, but also propel students toward a lasting career in construction. Plus, apprenticeship programs are perfect for low-stakes scouting. Interns are yet to be influenced by jobsite inefficiencies, so you can train them “the right way” and help promote ongoing productivity.

Internships are a great way for young people to gain practical experience in the industry and become attuned to the technologies, communication skills, and processes of a real-life jobsite.

 

Diversity

The construction industry has a diversity problem. The BLS worker demographic data shows:

  • 90 percent of construction workers are male
  • 88.4 percent of the workforce are Caucasian 
  • Only 6 percent of the working population are African American

This should come as no surprise for anyone who works in the industry. Construction notably lags behind the already lacking national average for workplace diversity. In fact, experts have identified workforce diversity as a top 20 risk for construction firms through 2027.

Lack of minority visibility in construction not only inhibits valuable, fresh perspectives, but there are also many business cases for diversity. For example, companies that better represent the communities in which they work often possess a competitive advantage. A McKinsey report found that culturally and ethnically diverse construction teams are 35 percent more likely to outperform competitors.

Once again, education is key. Diversity training, outreach programs, partnering with diversity organizations, etc. can all help include new voices on-site. Most of all, the jobsite must feel safe for all, so any and all workplace discrimination needs be reported and promptly addressed.

The construction industry must do everything possible to eliminate the harmful stereotype that manual labor is a “one type of person job.” Construction is an anybody job. Any nationality, male, female — all identities are welcome, and this needs to be the image the construction industry continues to promote.

Thirty-seven percent of contractors said that labor shortages have raised the costs of bids and contracts. This cannot continue, and how we proceed with the next generation of workers will shape the future of the industry. From education programs in schools to diversity training on-site, every small gesture toward inclusivity matters.

For more information on construction labor shortages, and the technologies being used to overcome them, check out our ebook 3 Proven Ways to Eliminate the Labor Shortage.

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