Angie Hicks has a unique perspective on construction.
As chief customer officer of Angi — formerly Angie’s List, which Hicks co-founded — she has decades of experience working with entrepreneurs in the trades and consumers. That gives her unique insight into how the construction industry is perceived.
A recent survey from Angi, the Skilled Trades in America report, found that contractors and employers struggle mightily to find and hire skilled workers, and 77% say it’s getting worse. At the same time, tradespeople are largely satisfied with their work. Women who work in the skilled trades flourish, reporting high satisfaction as well.
Construction Dive spoke with Hicks about the state of construction labor — both commercial and residential — and what needs to change about the industry’s image and recruiting performance.
The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: In your opinion, what is the current state of employment in the trades? How did we get here? What can be done to improve the situation?
ANGIE HICKS: I think there's two sides of the story. So one, I think it's really important to point out that people that have gone into the trades are having great careers, very successful careers. And in fact, in our most recent survey, over 80% of those surveyed say they really enjoy what they do. So when I think about what drives us to be successful and what makes us happy, if you enjoy your job, you're doing great. On the flip side, people in the trades are struggling with finding more quality talent. About 70% of folks surveyed that are in the trades have said hiring and finding people to join the trades is a challenge.
And it's been like that for some time. It used to be that the trades were something people joined right out of high school. That 16-to-22-year age period was the most popular time for people to join. But now it's becoming later. The average age of people in the trades is in the mid-40s. And we've got a lot of people that are getting ready to retire.
What can be done to get the industry back to that 16 to 22 age bracket?
I think we also need to think about making sure that we have a lot of the trades opportunities and classes available in high school. A lot of the trades people that we've talked to have commented on the fact that shop had been erased from a lot of high schools, which really hurt the number of people going into the trades because they weren't getting exposed to it.
I think we are at an interesting time right now, and we need to take advantage of it. I think a lot of younger people are rethinking their investment in education as far as what they're getting as reward. You know, one of the things that was challenging about the pandemic is that some younger folks that were high school age just became a little more disengaged with school because they were learning remotely. And that is opening them up to thinking about other opportunities. But we have to step in and make sure the trades are front and center as viable, so that we make sure that we win if the tides shifted at all.
You don't need a tidal wave shift to start to fill in these jobs. You need to be prepared and be nimble to go and take advantage of that market.
Is it time for a cultural change?
I think so. And I think a lot of times you're not seeing people talk about it, how young people are saying, "Hey, I want a much more technical job." A lot of the trades are becoming much more technical. If you're going to be an HVAC technician, there's more computer hardware in a furnace today than a lot of the mechanical hardware of the past. I think that’s going to make a change, because of the skillset that's going to be required by the products that are powering our homes and buildings.
I would be remiss to not say this: The trades are still a male-dominated industry. How do we create more diversity in the trades? I was talking to a woman in Brooklyn the other day who started her remodeling business probably a decade ago. She's passionate about trying to get more women to go into the trades. And it's like, how do we do that? How do we break down that barrier? Because I think there's a lot of interesting opportunities. And I think we just recruit to what we know. We need to broaden that.
It's the same issue that the first woman in the boardroom was like, "Okay, I'm in a room with a bunch of men." It's like the first woman at the plumbing company. How are we creating an environment that gives them role models and opportunities to see a path to success for themselves? I think the companies have to think about how they are creating a culture that's open to a more diverse workforce.
What would you say to someone who pushes back on that? Who says it's a woman’s job — or any workers’ job — to find their place in the company culture, not the other way around?
Well, I think that that could be the challenge which causes us to not have enough labor. Like these same companies can't grow and are turning down jobs because they can't find enough talented folks to do the work. So, I think if you choose to stay small, that's fine. But if you want to grow and take advantage of the opportunity, I think you need to think about how you are going to best position yourself to attract the talent that you need.