It is a well-known fact that skilled labor is increasingly difficult to find. The shortage has been attributed to many factors, including the financial crisis of 2008, the retirement of the baby boom generation, and millennials that are entering the workforce.
WHAT FACTORS HAVE CREATED THE LABOR SHORTAGES?
During the recession of 2008, the United States alone lost about 12 percent of the construction work force. As shown in the graph below, construction jobs maxed out at roughly 7.5 million in 2006 before drastically declining, with almost 2.5 million jobs lost by the middle of 2010. You can see that between 2010 and 2014 jobs were increasing, but never returned to the peak achieved before the financial crash in 2008. As the graph also shows, jobs are projected to continue to increase, but will take years to return to the 2006 level of over 7 million. Much of the employment loss is due to the perception of volatility in the construction industry. As a result, the industry lost many of its experienced construction workers.
Over the past decade, baby boomers began to retire at a high rate, leaving all industries, especially construction. With the high level of people leaving the workforce, job sites have been feeling the effects firsthand. Contractors are often forced to pay higher wages for subcontractors to get the work done, often waiting for talent to come to the table, essentially slowing down production. The average age of a construction worker is in the mid-40s, in the latter part of their careers, which poses a significant future challenge for the construction industry.
Millennials are slowly starting to take over the workforce as the baby boomers are making their exit into retirement. It is projected that three out of four workers will be millennials by 2024 and, for the most part, they are not choosing construction as a career. In high school, many are being steered toward four-year college degrees and never seeing the opportunities that the construction workforce may have to offer. Current high school curriculums do not offer what they did in the past for trade courses or apprenticeships. When students do not get the early introduction to the trades in high school, they lack the awareness of construction job possibilities. There may also be a stigma with going into the trades rather than pursuing a four-year college degree.
DEVELOPING TOMORROW’S WORKFORCE
The opportunity cost of choosing another career path over construction can be immense. With the rising cost of college and the amount of time dedicated to obtaining a four-year degree, the cons can outweigh the pros. Construction trades, for the most part, provide paid on-the-job training.
Millennials value different workforce standards when it comes to choosing their career. Work-life balance, career growth, a purpose, etc. are much different than the needs of previous generations. The construction industry has been listening to the concerns of millennials and increasing the benefits they offer to the new generation.
There are organizations like Project Build MN that are working diligently to find the best means of motivation and remove the misconceptions of the construction trades. Project Build MN has been implementing new steps in working with early career educators to bring positive attention to jobs in the construction trades.
Construction labor shortages will not be resolved until we find ways to bring more young people into the industry. We encourage you to participate in organizations like Project Build MN. And reach out to a young person you know, to consider a career in construction!
Meet the Author
Dan Beaving has been a project manager with Shingobee Builders for seven years. He has a varied background in the construction industry, with experience in project management, project engineering, on-site job supervision, safety coordination, and expertise with AutoCAD and Revit 3D. He has been on the Board of ProjectBuild MN for two years and moved into the role of President in January 2021.