- The median age of construction workers is 41, according to a National Association of Home Builders’ analysis of the most recent 2019 American Community Survey data, an attribute that makes contractors' efforts to attract new workers to the industry even more urgent.
- Maine holds the oldest median age of construction workers, at 47, followed by New Hampshire at 46 and West Virginia at 45. On the other end of the spectrum, construction workers in the central U.S. are younger than average, with around half in North Dakota and Alaska under 36 and half of all construction workers in Oklahoma and Utah under 38.
- By occupation, first-line supervisors of construction trades, extraction workers and construction managers had the oldest median age at 46. Helpers had the youngest median age at 30, followed by those who do solar-photovoltaic installations, with a median age of 33.
The high median age of construction workers is just one of the contributing factors to the workforce shortages in the industry. But the issue is not necessarily unique to construction, as there is an aging overall workforce due to national demographics.
“While there have been significant advances in technology, it’s still pretty heavily reliant on actual workers to perform, to build projects, to do the work,” said Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs & strategic initiatives at the Associated General Contractors of America. “And when you have so many people about to age out of the workforce, you want to make sure that you're recruiting and bringing new people.”
The problem can be traced back to a broader cultural push toward desk jobs, and away from construction jobs over the past 30 to 40 years, said Turmail. That societal shift in the U.S. has placed a lot of value in obtaining a professional career with salary, and devalued career tracks like construction, according to Turmail.
That continues to be the case even though a construction job pays 10% more than the average farm job and does not require workers to attend college, thereby avoiding student loans. But it does consist of outdoor work and requires physical skill.
To counter those trends, AGC recently launched a recruiting program called “Construction is Essential," which focuses on attracting, training and retaining talent in the industry.
To bring more workers in now, AGC recently called on the Biden administration to allow unemployment supplements it claims are keeping people out of the workforce to expire.
For training, Turmail said the organization is working to get more federal funding for career and technical education programs, and focusing on partnering with community and technical colleges.
To help retain more workers and lower turnover rates in the industry, AGC offers its Culture of CARE program, an initiative to build inclusive work environments at construction firms nationwide which saw widespread adoption after George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis in 2020 set off social upheaval nationwide. More than 547 firms have taken the association's pledge to provide a workplace free of harrassment, hazing and bullying.
AGC's recruiting program uses targeted digital advertising as a cost effective way to reach potential new applicants, an issue that's gotten even more important as existing workers continue to grow older.
“It really kind of heightens the sense of urgency of the need to bring in folks, qualified workers, and ensure that there's an opportunity for them to work with folks who are more experienced and more seasoned,” said Turmail. “You've got a lot of folks who have an incredible amount of skills in their crafts. You need to fill [those positions] while some of the folks are still there so that they can help transfer what they know to the next generation of workers."