Despite the ever-growing need in the construction industry for skilled workers, companies are facing a terrible labor shortage. Careers in the construction industry were once enticing opportunities, snatched up as soon as they were offered to baby boomers. So, why now is the construction industry facing labor shortages and decreased production?
A huge problem in the industry now is the aging workforce. Combined with the recession and the retirement age of baby boomers, more workers are leaving the construction industry than ever before. The largest sector of the workforce consists of baby boomers, the youngest of which are creeping up towards retirement age in vast numbers. During the recession of 2008, many of these workers lost their jobs and moved to other (perceptibly more stable) industries, reducing further the number of skilled and experienced workers that stayed within the industry.
Older workers are phasing out of the industry into retirement, yet there exists no equal influx of younger workers into the industry. They have been encouraged, more than any generation before, to automatically pursue higher education following high school. With the pressure and expectation to get an advanced degree, students have not been educated about viable careers that can be achieved right out of high school.
With the economy steadily improving, the labor shortage is beginning to impact construction companies’ financial bottom line. Sixty-nine percent of the industry reported experiencing delays in completing projects on time due to lack of qualified workers. Due to the lack of laborers, smaller companies also suffer in that they are unable to bid on lucrative project offers. The sentiment is shared among most companies: “We could bid on more jobs, but we don’t have labor”. Unfortunately, the gap between production needs and available staff is expected to widen and there is a need for identifying additional skilled labor.
To keep up with the growing economy, steps must be taken to encourage the next generation to enter into the booming workforce. Altering preconceived notions about the industry as a whole is the first step. Many millennials view college as the only feasible option to start their career path. 2014 saw 60.9% of California High School graduates going straight to college, and this number has been steadily increasing since 2012. The next generation advancing into working age has overlooked the possibility of pursuing a career in the construction industry, and just how valuable this path can be. The construction industry has diversified greatly with the advent of technology, a feature that the next generation knows very well. A career in construction is no longer defined by back-breaking labor. Rather, it is a career filled with constant learning opportunities, valuable skills, and integration of technology. Advertising the industry as diverse and limitless is important to appeal to the next generation of workers, and allow them to realize how they can work up in the industry and succeed. “You don’t have to go to college to have a great career in our industry”, says Pat Jacomat of OAIMA.
The first step to solving this matter starts with high school students. A largely untapped resource, high schoolers represent a bigger candidate pool that is more likely to enter the construction workforce. Efforts need to be placed on encouraging soon to be high school grads to pursue an immediate career path in the construction industry.
With the bigger picture issues and solutions defined, the question still remains: What tangible steps can be taken to fix this?
Project Cornerstone is bridging the gap between the construction industry and high school students. This nonprofit works closely with high schools to incentivize students to engage in the construction industry and view this career sector as viable and competitive. Project Cornerstone’s programs offer high school students a unique introduction to jobs in the construction industry by offering field trips and interaction with employees of construction companies. Through demonstrations and firsthand experience, students get excited about the construction industry and learn just how important these careers are. Career Technical Education programs in schools are great opportunities for the construction industry to interact with students and show them the variety of jobs that are available. By partnering with the schools we can ensure students are educated about the construction industry and how much it has to offer. This labor shortage can be solved by direct involvement; working to interest students in the industry, and showing them firsthand the great opportunities working in construction creates.
Partnering with Project Cornerstone and joining our campaign to target high school students can be the first step to counteract the labor shortage in the construction industry and begin a steady flow of next-generation workers who are eager and ready to succeed in these careers. Donations to Project Cornerstone go directly to funding in-class demonstrations and activities, and class field trips. Additionally, Project Cornerstone can directly introduce students to your company or organization.
Project Cornerstone’s mission is to educate students about the importance of the construction materials industry through making STEM and NGSS learning relevant by utilizing hands-on activities and making the connection to viable careers. This is the first step towards encouraging the next generation workforce to get excited about construction again.