Construction — like banking and real estate — was one of the key industries hit hardest by the downturn of 2008, with thousands of workers laid off, and many companies shuttering for good.
The Proof is in the Numbers
With the economy in recovery mode, indicators show steady growth, specifically in the construction industry, which added 36,000 net new jobs in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the whole, construction employment added 226,000 positions in the last year, representing 3.3% growth.
Where are the Workers?
But while the availability of construction jobs continues is on the rise, there are concerns about whether there is enough qualified labor.
Thanks to a school system that prioritizes college preparation over vocational fields, we’ve accidentally created a shortage of qualified skilled laborers at the same time that thousands of Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age.
“Given the elevated number of available construction job openings still in place, staffing levels are likely to grow in future months, though that growth will continue to be constrained by the paucity of available talent that has contractors scrambling,” says Anirban Basu, Chief Economist at Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).
Industry groups like ABC and Associated General Contractors (AGC) have spent years pushing for greater government funding for trade education programs to create a construction industry labor pipeline. President Trump’s proposed $200 million apprenticeship plan could help boost those efforts.
The greater challenge will be getting kids interested in construction. Only three percent of adults between 18 and 25 show any interest in the field, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Home Builders.
Knowledge is Power
So what’s to be done?
In the short term, we need to educate tomorrow’s workers on the benefits of a career in construction:
- Learning an invaluable skill
- Job security
- Rising salaries (Average construction wages are $26/hour)
In the long term, we need to rethink how we educate kids and open their minds to make room for both white and blue collar career paths. We can expose them to different trades that might interest them, and then offer workforce training as they approach graduation.
Without these steps, the labor shortage in the construction industry will only get worse.