How the Construction Industry Can Appeal to Younger Generations
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The construction industry has a labor shortage and a perception problem. How can it attract more young people to join the workforce?
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 any time since just after the Great Recession. The average age of construction workers in the U.S. is 42 years old. A recent survey conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America found 80 percent of the construction firms struggled to fill hourly positions in the last year.
But instead of wallowing in doom and gloom, it may be more helpful to examine how to correct this problem — mainly, how the construction industry can present itself to younger generations as a lucrative and fulfilling career path. Here are some ways the industry is trying to appeal to young people to 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 is often presented as necessary and even mandatory, regardless of 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 construction jobs don’t require college at all. When education is necessary, it’s usually via a much cheaper trade school program. Apprenticeship programs even allow novices to be paid while learning the core skills of their trade of choice.
A job in construction can be viewed as a dead-end, last-resort option, instead of the start of rewarding career with the opportunity for advancement and growth. The industry needs to work harder to change that perception.
One construction company in Northern Kentucky is trying by creating internship positions for high schoolers. Students work after school and on weekends, getting a hands-on look at a job they may have otherwise never considered. The company’s first intern has already landed and accepted a job offer.
The internet is a powerful tool for marketing. An organization called Build California created an interactive website that allows young people to explore the various paths that working in construction could take them down. The website makes it easy to click through the options. Each provides important details like apprenticeship opportunities, average wage, and what sort of training and schooling is needed to land the job.
Per the Build California website: “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.”
Hands-On Camps for Students
A recent article in Forbes details how the traditional shop class has all but disappeared from public high schools in America — and it came out more than seven years ago. Since then it’s become even more of a relic, meaning that most students’ best opportunity for hands-on power tool training no longer exists.
To compensate, high schools across the country have started special clubs and camps. Last year,, 600 high school students in Central New York visited the nearby fairgrounds to take part in a special Construction Career Day. Students met with contractors 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 more interlaced with technology than ever before. The construction industry can meet young people halfway by bringing construction themes to things that already interest them, like mobile games.
The Pittsburgh-based app developer 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.