In two years, Gen Z is expected to make up one-fifth of the workforce. With 40% of workers estimated to retire by 2030, the construction industry knows that it needs this generation to choose construction.
Yet the estimated workforce shortages and skills gap that we’re facing indicate a distinct lack of new workers joining the industry. The research project, “Restoring the Dignity of Work,” points out that it takes anywhere from eight to 12 years for a craft professional to go from entry-level to fully trained. With the length of time it takes to gain experience, the industry must place an emphasis on recruitment and training.
What can the industry do to start making progress in workforce development?
The first step is begin reaching parents. “Restoring the Dignity of Work” points out that parents are among the main influencers in the career-decision making process of young people. A recent survey of parents, sponsored by NCCER, found that, while 71% respondents would show some sort of support if their child chose a career of construction, 70% would be unlikely to actually advise their child to choose the industry.
To begin changing the perceptions of a career in construction, industry needs to engage in image enhancement campaigns. This includes using dignity in our own language by replacing terms such as “blue collar” with “craft professional” and “middle skilled” with “highly skilled.”
Other areas of image enhancement include showing how safety is held in high regard by the industry, demonstrating the career advancement opportunities available, and showcasing the high salaries that can be earned with little-to-no debt. Build Your Future has free resources industry can use to reach parents, including fact blogs, social media graphics, success stories and more.
Partner with Education
“Restoring the Dignity of Work” recommends the industry work toward establishing and strengthening career awareness and education opportunities. Industry involvement in both secondary and postsecondary programs are completely necessary if they are to succeed.
Garrett High School’s Career Development program receives a significant portion of their funding from the community. Beyond financial support, area businesses are involved in the program by interviewing students, offering mentorships, providing employment and sitting on the advisory board.
Central Arizona College’s (CAC) craft program was losing interest with fewer than 10 students enrolled annually until they partnered with industry. Sundt Construction worked with CAC to update their program and offer five areas of study that provided relevant career pathways. The partnership is a true one — Sundt provides direct employee interaction with students, materials for the classes and instructors for two of the pathways.
Make Training a Requirement
Much like owners hold contractors to a high standard in safety performance, the same commitment needs to be given to workforce development when awarding contracts.
Southern Company has implemented a scoring metric for how involved their contractors are in workforce development. Eddie Clayton, contracting and workforce development strategies manager for Southern Company, said, “At the end of the day, we’ll only have the contractors who are most engaged on our bid list for our construction and maintenance projects.”
Smaller companies are also making training a key part of their businesses’ culture. Schaffhouser Electric Company has about 50 employees, all of which are involved in some level of training. The CEO has identified training as a way to set the company apart from competitors.
From showing parents the dignity of a construction career to ensuring education has the resources needed to train, it’s vital that industry is involved in workforce development. The perception of working in construction has become detrimental to the industry’s ability to thrive. Construction is not just digging ditches, and we need students and their parents to recognize it for what it is — a career of choice.
Originally published in NCCER's Breaking Ground blog.