The unemployment rate in the United States has remained at or below 4% for the last 18 months, hitting the 3.7% mark in August. Yet, more than 5.8 million jobs have been added since January 2017, including the nearly 700,000 in construction alone.
With the average age of craft professionals at 43 and 21.7% over the age of 54, the industry is expecting to see 40% of seasoned workers retire by 2030. Even more alarming is that, in 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that only 1.7% of construction workers were 16-to 19-years-old and less than 10% were under 25-years-old.
Where is our future workforce going to come from? The industry is facing a severe skilled worker shortage that is not going to change overnight.
What can we do? Challenge ourselves to both find new solutions and ensure we are implementing tried and true programs. Educate ourselves about barriers to entry into the industry and how to combat misconceptions. Share the truths we know to be authentic about the independence, skills and opportunities that accompany a career in construction.
Creative Solutions for a Challenging Time
With less young people choosing to enter construction, the industry has the opportunity to evaluate previous practices and see where there is a chance for improvement or innovation. Career and technical education (CTE), while reimagined, is not new — previously known as shop classes and other vocational areas of study, these began decreasing in secondary schools with the increasing focus on college tracks. The reinvention of CTE has brought back a resurgence of popularity in career paths, especially with facts showing CTE students have a higher graduation rate from high school, better grade point averages and hands-on experience when entering their chosen field.
A well-developed program, the Construction Trades program at Garrett High School has been in existence for over 40 years. Understanding that maintaining the status quo was not enough, it was expanded to be the Construction Career Development program which begins in fifth grade. In addition to expanding to include elementary and middle school, the program is committed to academic integration, hands-on work experiences and career exploration.
Power UP Inc. is an innovative program beginning in kindergarten that includes two full school days a month — during school hours indicating the program carries the same importance as English or math classes. The program begins in kindergarten and follows the same class of students up through high school. Each year focuses on a different construction theme; the 2019/2020 school year is electrical.
This program is unique in that it focuses entirely on young women, providing them with the opportunity to learn about career options they may not have considered, and incorporates their parents. Buy-in and participation from parents is key to the success the program has seen with students continuing each year.
Understanding Barriers to Entry
There is no question that there are fewer young people choosing construction as a career path. In fact, the Construction Labor Market Analyzer (CLMA) reports a decrease from 12.5% to 9.0% in those under the age of 25 from 2007 to 2018.
One likely reason for this decline is the influence of parents and the belief that going to college is the only route to success. In a survey deployed by Frankel Media Group, on behalf of NCCER, 514 parents shared what they considered important for their children to be successful. The results provided a few significant insights:
83% either strongly or somewhat agree that a college degree is vital to a good career
99% either considered job security and availability very or somewhat important
71% either would be strongly or somewhat supportive if their child pursued a career in construction
70% either would be unlikely to advise their child to choose a career in construction
100% either rated job satisfaction as very or somewhat important
A surprising 6% of parents would be strongly opposed to their child taking CTE courses as well as being strongly unsupportive of their child pursuing a career in construction.
The results show that, while many parents would support their child’s choice to enter the industry, they would not recommend it. To begin swinging the pendulum in our favor, we must work to changing the perceptions of parents from negative to at least neutral.
A key opportunity to begin changing perceptions is to connect parents’ prioritization of job security and availability with the increasing job demand in construction — an estimated 1.5 million jobs will need filled through 2023.
One hundred percent of parents surveyed indicated that job satisfaction was important to them for their child’s future. The 2015 TinyPulse Best Industry Ranking Report finding construction professionals to be overall the happiest workers. The survey found major drivers behind this rating was satisfaction with colleagues and the nature of the job. So how does industry highlight this to parents?
Careers in Construction Month (CICM), a yearly tradition, offers the perfect chance to showcase what the industry has to offer: job satisfaction, lucrative careers, upward mobility, high skills and so much more. Spearheaded by NCCER and Build Your Future, CICM occurs every October to increase public awareness and inspire the next generation of craft professionals. Every state is asked to request their governor to proclaim October as CICM and provide activities supporting the month.
As of October 1, 40 states, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington D.C. have submitted proclamations and are planning activities to recognize the highly skilled men and women who build America and change perceptions of a career as a craft professional.
Bringing It All Together
One thing that we must not do is remain a segmented industry. Understanding that changing the perceptions of careers in construction benefits us all, as well as the rest of society, we must be willing to share successes, work together and continue upskilling those who have chosen to enter the industry.
Connecting with education and changing parents’ perceptions gives us hope for a different future — one where construction is a career of choice. After all, from our schools to our stadiums, craft professionals build the world.