With October being Careers in Construction month, it’s the perfect time to highlight one of our industry’s biggest challenges — the extreme shortage in skilled labor. Each month in the U.S. there are more than 200,000 open construction positions across the U.S. just waiting to be filled. This is due in part to an aging workforce, the low number of students choosing vocational schooling post high school, and the massive boom in home building.
There are many misconceptions but the biggest contributors are the myths commonly associated with a technical education including the following:
Trade Schools are For Kids Who Couldn’t Make it in Four-Year Colleges
Entrance standards are not as strict as in many four-year colleges, this means more opportunity and less student debt since programs can often be completed in two-years. Additionally, trade schools offer the ability to train for specific careers like electrician, plumber, HVAC tech, carpenter or project manager to name a few. Students graduate with a specific skill set that allows them to quickly move into a highly competitive workforce. For these reasons, an education in the trades is also ideal for adults seeking to change career paths.
Trade Schools Don’t Offer Financial Aid
Instead of typical financial aid, students can apply for federal financial aid which helps students apply for grant money or federal student loans. Grants are a great option because they do not have to be paid back. Additionally, federal student loans often have lower interest rates and offer income-based repayment options to help students afford their payments.
Trade School Graduates Can’t Make a Decent Salary
This myth could not be not be more wrong. In today’s world, many students graduating from a four-year college find it hard to land even an entry level job in more traditional roles. The specialized skills learned in trade schools are in high demand — and offer salaries to match. While other industries have seen devastating job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, construction industry hiring has surged and job openings have increased.
An Aging Workforce
The construction industry has what is called “aging workforce.” This means the number of employees above 60 is increasing more than any other age group. Though many construction workers are putting off retirement as long as possible, there is a large void looming. One of the most concerning issues is there will be a loss of knowledge from one generation to the next. Additionally, this issue could affect all aspects of the market. If the industry isn’t able to attract younger workers, it could lead to more expensive housing, longer build times and stalled projects.
New Home Construction Boom
Even though it has been impacted by the coronavirus, including a brief shut down at the beginning of the epidemic, overall the home building industry has seen gains across the board. This means workers can be choosy when looking for work.
“Find Something New” Initiative
One way the U.S. is addressing this labor shortage is through the creation of the White House’s American Workforce Policy Advisory Board. An ad campaign focused on “finding something new” and acquiring skills needed for a new career being the main message. The Find Something New website, findsomethingnew.org, allows job seekers to find online learning opportunities, certificate programs, training programs and apprenticeships. This resource features a robust set of opportunities in vocational and trades education through partnerships with the likes of the Home Builders Institute (HBI), the American Association of Community Colleges, Home Depot, as well as organizations in your local area.
This lack of skilled workers has pushed the industry to innovate the construction process in order to supplement worker shortage. Examples include more off-site prefabrication, 3-D modeling and automated processes that include the use of robots. Learning to master these new technology solutions offers yet another opportunity for construction workers to enhance their skillset.
At a time when skilled labor is at a critical low, today’s industry leaders must be proactive and collaborative to solve this problem. Ideas could include creating a scholarship program for students in the construction industry through your company, actively pursuing and maintaining relationships with area schools that provide college or pre-college technical courses, connecting mentors and mentees so new workers can learn from older generations.
No doubt, many solutions will be needed to address this important issue. I challenge you to think outside the box for ways you can make an impact on the future of home building.
This month’s column has been submitted by HBA’s Ross Britton, vice president of Education & Workforce Development