It’s no secret that there is a shortage of skilled construction labor in our country. Across the U.S. there are approximately 200,000 openings in construction waiting to be filled- an 81% increase over the past 2 years. Yet 27 states lost construction jobs from March to April. The opportunities for construction employment are abundant, but workers are simply not available to take advantage of them.
A big reason that industry ranks are dwindling is that upcoming generations have little interest in construction. A survey from the National Association of Home Builders found that only 3% (!!!) of young adults age 18 to 25 say they’ll choose construction as a career, while a whopping 63% say they’ll give the industry little to no consideration, regardless of pay. It’s no surprise that recent research by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) found that while most contractors want to increase their employee headcount, 73% have trouble finding workers and 76% expect the labor shortage will continue or get worse.
We’ve got a big problem on our work-gloved hands. Today we’ll offer 3 solutions for combating the skilled labor shortage:
1. Encourage Education: Many advocacy and political groups related to education, trade and technical education, and career training are encouraging the U.S. House of Representatives to reauthorize a federal program that funds career and technical education (CTE). First passed in 1984 and last authorized in 2013, “The Perkins Career and Technical Education Program” needs to be reworked to meet the challenges of today. The goals of reauthorization include (1) increasing overall funding for CTE programs to improve and diversify both enrollment and learning opportunities, (2) returning oversight and control from federal officials to state and local communities, and (3) simplifying and standardizing language across government. The Senate is also exploring a bill to amend the Perkins Act.
Outside of D.C., companies and schools are taking it upon themselves to encourage students to consider skilled labor. Komatsu and NCDOT are partnering to take students to Extreme Sandbox locations so they can personally experience the thrill of operating heavy machinery. Construction programs at universities like Georgia Tech are offering Technology Application courses that demonstrate innovation in the industry. Acquiring new skills is a top incentive for young people who enter construction, so encouraging education and skill development should be a top priority in combating the labor shortage.
2. Improve Safety: A top obstacle to increasing the skilled labor force is the perception that such work is not only difficult, but dangerous. According to the National Safety Council, 58% of construction workers think safety takes a backseat to productivity and completing job tasks, compared to only 36% of workers in other industries. Additionally, 51% of construction workers think management does only the minimum required by law to keep employees safe and 47% of those surveyed feel afraid to report job safety issues. Meanwhile, 44% of highway contractors have experienced a work-zone vehicle crash in the past year. Construction workers, especially those in the South, can be underpaid and can lack benefits including health insurance, injury compensation, and even water breaks! The industry needs to elevate both perceptions and standards of safety and security. No one will want to work a job if they think they may be dangerously underpaid, injured, or could even potentially lose their life!
3. Listen to Leaders: Young professionals in the field know first-hand the aspects of construction that would entice their peers to join the industry. Young adults in construction want opportunities to engage with their work – chances to learn, to have hands-on training, and to prove their skills. The rising class of workers are also socially engaged; they want to counter climate change through sustainable technology and they value diversity on their project teams. Listening and responding to the voices of those leading the new generation of workers will be essential to helping them grow the industry they will one day inherit.
The skilled labor shortage is a big problem, but there are big solutions out there too! And you can help – perhaps you can call your Congressman, or reevaluate your safety standards, or get advice from your younger workers. Whether we’re looking out for the industry we work in, or just looking out for the business that puts food on the table, we can all do our part to combat the labor shortage!!
And you can leave a comment below!! How are you attracting the rising generation of workers??