Are skilled craft professionals becoming scarce? With the construction industry continuing to expand — 282,000 jobs were added over the past year — and baby boomers retiring, the answer is overwhelmingly yes. By 2030, millennials, those born in the 1980s and 1990s, are predicted to make up 75 percent of the global workforce, which makes sense as the last of the baby boomers are set to turn 65 in 2029. The industry does not have the luxury to be nonchalant about the impending changes facing us with an estimated shortage of 1.5 million workers by 2021.
What implications does this have for the construction workforce? The Associated General Contractors of America’s chief economist, Ken Simonson, points out that the “pool of unemployed construction workers has nearly evaporated.” The next 12 years are critical not only in hiring new craft professionals but also in being able to increase their knowledge and skill levels to replace the seasoned workers the industry is losing — it can take from eight to 12 years to become proficient based on the craft.
Recognizing that the industry must commit to making changes now, the white paper, “Restoring the Dignity of Work: Transforming the U.S. Workforce Development System into a World Leader,” outlines short-term and long-term policies to implement in order to revitalize our workforce development system. The first recommended policy focuses on establishing and strengthening career awareness and education opportunities. One of the biggest challenges our industry is combating is the belief that attending a traditional university is the most profitable career path. In fact, 80 percent of 18- to 19-year olds expect to earn a bachelor’s degree but only 33 percent of jobs require a four-year degree. Due to this, most young people start working in construction as a secondary career path, not primary. Changing the perception of construction as a fallback career into one of a career of choice — as it has high salaries, job satisfaction, growth opportunities and more — will assist in recruiting younger generations and help appeal to their parents.
A viable and successful alternative to an expensive traditional four-year university education is work-based learning programs such as apprenticeships and career and technical education (CTE). These programs exist today but need more acknowledgement as promising equivalents to traditional academic learning. Right now, the average age of apprentices is 30 and only 20 percent are under 25 years of age. NCCER and initiatives that utilize their curriculum and resources, such as Louisiana’s Jump Start and Faith Technologies, are working towards increasing awareness of the benefit of a career in construction, both with secondary and postsecondary students.
NCCER’s accredited craft training provides students with industry-recognized credentials while learning skills through hands-on applications. With over 70 craft curricula, including the newly updated and recently released HVAC, Mechanical Insulating, Mobile Crane, Rigger, Signal Person and Safety Technology, NCCER’s programs of study meet the Department of Labor’s office of apprenticeship requirements for registered training. Jump Start begins in secondary education through CTE and provides NCCER training to high school students. Successful completion of the program earns students NCCER credentials and helps them get started early on a career path that leads to lucrative jobs that are in high demand.
The Faith Technologies’ Ground Up Growth initiative, a postsecondary apprenticeship program, offers every apprentice a debt-free training opportunity to learn about the various career paths available while earning a pay check, getting hands-on experience and having traveling opportunities. These programs are examples of how to strengthen construction career path awareness and provide education options that won’t pile on debt caused by high tuition.
Another recommended policy in "Restoring the Dignity of Work" is the measurement of performance and involvement in workforce development when awarding construction contracts. This places responsibility within the industry to ensure that we are offering continued training and development of our workforce as both owners and contractors. Similar to safety requirements, commitment to workforce development, which we defined as including recruitment, training, placement and retention, should be measured when awarding contracts. The paper points out that “owners should only do business with contractors who invest in training and maintain the skills of their workforce.”
NCCER and the Construction Users Roundtable have created a tool, the Construction Workforce Development Assessment (CWDA), that can be used to assess the commitment of contractors to workforce development. Contractors voluntarily choose to subscribe to the CWDA and be evaluated by a non-biased, third-party auditor; they can then provide their scores to specific owners. Contractors should understand the value of investing in their employees in order to increase skill levels as it becomes increasingly necessary to fill the shortage of seasoned craft professionals and demonstrate their efforts to owners.
Workforce development is critical to the future of the construction industry. Therefore, continuing to recruit and train craft professionals will help improve the overall quality and skill level of our industry’s workforce. Apprenticeships and CTE are essential components of recruiting the next generation of craft professionals and need to be more widely recognized and promoted. In addition, continued training is necessary in retaining and growing craft professionals’ skills. If we work together, from owners and contractors to associations and CTE instructors — all of which play a vital role in building the industry’s future workforce — we can make the changes necessary to keep up with demand and continue building America’s future.
“Restoring the Dignity of Work: Transforming the U.S. Workforce Development System into a World Leader” was developed by an industry-driven research team led by NCCER and the Construction Industry Institute (CII) with the support of Construction Users Roundtable (CURT), IRONWORKERS/IMPACT and representatives from CII member firms.