The skilled labor shortage in the United States continues to be a significant challenge for the construction industry. While the pandemic delayed many construction projects in 2020, the demand in 2021 is full steam ahead. This strong demand, coupled with older workers retiring, has intensified the labor shortage, creating space for the next generation of construction workers.
According to a recent study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and USG Corporation, 91% of contractors who participated in the study reported having a moderate to difficult time hiring skilled workers for vacant positions. In the months following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, business owners reported having an even bigger challenge in filling open positions. In fact, the study reports 39% of those contractors believe hiring will become even more challenging in the months and years to come.
To foster the next generation of the construction workforce, construction business owners can help to close this gap by recruiting Generation Z, which is anyone born between 1995 and 2010. With the recurring worker shortages in today’s construction environment, consider the following tips to help companies in the skilled trades successfully attract and retain millennial and Gen Z workers.
1. Change the Conversation
It’s never too early to introduce young people to skilled trades opportunities. Parents and teachers should give equal weight to skilled trade careers and higher education paths.
Ultimately, a 4-year degree may not be right for every student, and young adults are seeing the financial pitfalls that can come with earning a bachelor’s degree. In fact, federal data from 2021 shows that the average student leaves a 4-year degree program almost $40,000 in debt. In comparison, a 2-year degree or trade certification allows students to get paid, on-the-job training during school, and depending on the line of work, many companies will pay for their employees to get their trade degrees.
Financial freedom aside, the industry needs to reinforce that skilled trade careers also require talent, knowledge and dedication. These are roles that thrive on creativity, innovation, teamwork and quick thinking, and may also provide the opportunity to become a manager or take ownership within a business setting.
2. Connect With Youth
As a manufacturer committed to partnering with the community in building a pipeline of skilled workers, Bobcat recommends that professional trade businesses reach out to local high schools to showcase the opportunities in the industry — and their specific businesses — to attract future employees.
This type of relationship building is in the best, long-term interest of every small business owner and requires ongoing efforts. This may mean encouraging high school students to consider a tech school, to look at your company for summer internship work, or take into consideration a potential job opportunity after graduation.
Outreach opportunities should also look broadly enough to build connections with students who are nearing the end of their degree programs and planning for their career paths after graduation.
3. Spotlight the Benefits
The belief that you must secure a 4-year or liberal arts degree to be well-compensated simply isn’t true. There is good money to be made in skilled trades work. For example, the mean annual wage for construction and extraction occupations can range from $39,000 to $45,580, and mean hourly wage is around $20.67, according to a May 2020 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Many in the skilled trades profession earn six-figure wages in far less time, and with far less money spent on education, than just about any other field of work. Beyond wages, there are other factors, such as the benefits of work satisfaction, job security and work/life balance. It is the responsibility of all industry professionals to educate youth on the financial benefits, as well as the fulfillment that comes from other positive aspects of these roles.
4. Encourage Development Opportunities
Finally, it’s important to inform young people of the opportunities for advancement and growth within your company — and the industry at large. There are significant opportunities for career progression and growth into management and leadership positions. Showcasing the opportunities for succession planning and business ownership is another aspect of the trades labor force that can provide more value than a more traditional career path outside of the industry.
The industry is reaching a tipping point where we will continue to see more significant job gaps as baby boomers retire. Capitalizing on the vast knowledge and skills of these professionals now to train a new generation of professionals will be vital to keeping the industry going. Part of this is understanding how to communicate with Gen Z employees.
More than any other generation, Gen Z employees are driven by financial awards and potential career advancements. Tying back their responsibilities and their place in your organization to the bottom line is important for them to understand how they directly contribute to not only their own success but also that of the company. In addition, it can be important to remember that this group uses digital communication tools for all aspects of their lives. Text messaging and other project management or workflow applications, like Slack, are the preferred way to collaborate and connect.
Ultimately, everyone can play a part in preparing for the economy of tomorrow by taking steps to help attract and retain the next generation of construction professionals. While these tips are meant to encourage you and your managers to strategically plan for the future of your business, you are the real expert when it comes to your business, your market and the role you play in your community. The more outreach you can do to cultivate awareness for your organization and the opportunities in the industry more broadly, the more successful we will all be in building stronger employees, businesses and communities.