Despite softening financial returns on a typical college education, American high school graduates are continually being swayed to pursue four-year degrees in favor of training that could grant them work in some highly-paid, skilled construction trades, according to The Hechinger Report.
Construction training may offer a better chance of success than four-year degrees, the report found. Seventy-percent of construction companies nationwide are having trouble finding qualified workers, according to the Associated General Contractors of America — meaning skilled jobs are available. Yet 30% of students at public universities and 20% at private colleges still haven't earned a bachelor's degree six years after high school graduation, according to stats from the National Student Clearinghouse. In addition, tuition and certification fees for career training programs are typically significantly less than the cost of college, which usually leaves students with hefty loans to repay after graduation.
California, Iowa, Michigan and Washington are just a handful of states sinking more money into career and vocational education budgets in an effort to increase the supply of skilled workers that local businesses need. Open U.S. construction positions are expected to increase by more than 745,000 jobs through 2026, faster than any other occupation, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In Washington state alone, there are already more than 3,200 unfilled construction jobs, of which many pay more than the average state wage of $54,000 a year.
But the desire to succeed on a traditional college track is not the only reason young people are avoiding the construction industry. A National Association of Home Builders survey revealed that only 3% of adults ages 18 to 25 who knew what career they wanted to pursue said they wanted one in the construction industry. Of those who were interested in construction, 80% said the pay is what was drawing them in, but 63% of those undecided about a career said they wouldn't choose construction regardless of potential income.
That's why it's important to appeal to the younger demographic that has been raised with computers, smartphones and video games by showing them how high-tech office and field positions can be in the modern construction industry. For example, building information modeling (BIM) is a technology that flows between the project manager, design team and field and puts a spin on the industry that younger workers might not have thought of part of a traditional job field such as construction. Laser scanning, virtual reality and equipment automation are also aspects of jobsites these days that might be appealing to millennials and even younger potential candidates.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in the quest to attract younger workers is to convince their parents — most likely their biggest influencers — that pursuing a career in construction can be highly rewarding.