How the Construction Industry Can Appeal to Younger Generations

The construction industry has a labor shortage and a perception problem- but that doesn't mean that it can't be attractive to young people joining the workforce.

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It’s not exactly a well-guarded secret—the construction industry is slowly but surely running out of workers. The labor shortage in the construction industry has been widely reported and analyzed by industry experts and economists, and the trends are always the same. In March of 2019, there were more openings for construction jobs than there had been since just after the Great Recession. The average age of construction workers in the U.S. is now 42 years old. A recent survey conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America found that 80 percent of the construction firms surveyed have had a hard time filling hourly positions in the last year.

But instead of getting caught up in all the doom and gloom, it is perhaps more helpful to look at what can be done to correct this problem. There are many ways that the construction industry can present itself to younger generations as a career path that is both lucrative and fulfilling. Here are some of the ways that the construction industry is positioning itself in communities across the U.S. in order to appeal to the young people that could one day become an essential part of its workforce.

An Alternative to Student Debt

Close to 70 percent of high-school graduates in the U.S. enrolled in colleges or universities. In today’s culture, a four-year degree can often be presented to students as a necessary and even mandatory investment, regardless of their academic aptitude or financial situation. In many cases, that can lead to unenthusiastic students taking on crippling amounts of debt with no real passion for the degree they are paying through the teeth to get.

A career in the construction trades is a clear alternative to the standard four-year degree. Many jobs under the umbrella of construction do not require any traditional schooling, and when education is required it is usually in the form of a much cheaper trade school program. Apprenticeship programs can even offer the opportunity for novices to get paid while learning the core skills of their trade of choice.

Construction Internships

One of the issues plaguing the construction industry is that starting a job in construction can be viewed as a dead-end, last resort option instead of as the beginning of a career with the opportunity for advancement and growth. The industry as a whole needs to work in order to change that perception.

One construction company in Northern Kentucky is attempting to present construction as a viable career opportunity by creating internship positions for high schoolers. The internship program allows students to work on weekends and after school, getting a hands-on look at a job they may have otherwise never considered. So far, the company’s first intern has already landed (and accepted) a job offer for formal employment.

Interactive Websites

The internet is a powerful tool for marketing. An organization called “Build California” is attempting to take advantage of that through an interactive website that allows young people to explore the many different paths that working in construction could take them down. The website makes it easy to click through various career paths, presenting information in a way that is concise and easy to consume. Each career path provides important details like apprenticeship opportunities, average wage, and what sort of training and schooling is needed to land the job.

“Only 9 percent of Generation Z is interested in a future in construction. So where’s the disconnect? The construction industry has a perception problem and it’s up to us, the associations, professionals, and organizations that actually build our state, to change hearts and minds. We have to redefine our industry. We have to invest in our own legacy so that future generations aspire to be construction professionals.” — Build California Website

Hands-On Camps for Students

This Forbes article details how shop class curriculum has all but disappeared from public high school’s in America, and it came out over seven years ago. Since then the traditional shop class has become even more of a relic in the U.S., meaning that most student’s best chance at getting hands-on with power tools simply no longer exists.

High schools across the country have started special clubs and camps in order to give young people the opportunity to work with their hands. Earlier in October, 600 high school students in Central New York got to take a trip to nearby fairgrounds to take part in a special Construction Career Day. Over the course of the day, students met with contractors from the area who taught them about their jobs and daily lives, showing how people with careers in construction operate from day to day.

Video Games (Really)

The younger generations in the U.S. have been brought into a world that is more interlaced with the use of technology than ever before. The construction industry can do several things to “meet young people halfway”, in a way, by bringing construction themes to the things that already interest them, like mobile games. A Pittsburgh-based app developer called Simcoach recently partnered with contractor associations to develop games that teach potential recruits essential things about construction sites, including safety equipment training and the operation of heavy equipment. Students who complete these games can sometimes earn a certification that can help them find an apprenticeship. 

Did you know that construction employment is growing faster than the general economy? Learn more here.