The construction industry is a cornerstone of any thriving economy, providing nearly 9 million jobs and contributing significantly to our nation’s GDP. Within Oregon alone, construction contributes nearly 5% of the annual GDP. In Washington State, construction makes up 4% of the annual GDP. With the prevalence of construction in our economy, there is a constant demand for skilled labor. Today, older generations are retiring faster than new labor can be found, creating a shortage of skilled workers and challenging the industry to find ways to promote careers in construction trades in order to recruit a new wave of talent. Nearly 91% of contractors report challenges in filling open positions.
Filling this labor gap and creating a pipeline of skilled young workers requires collaboration between industry and educational leaders. In today’s article, we will explore the efforts that can be taken to encourage young people to join the trades.
1. Acknowledge the Skills Gap in Construction
The first step in encouraging young people to take up careers in the construction trades is acknowledging the skills gap. Many industries, including construction, are struggling with a disconnect between the skills job applicants have and the skills employers need. This issue can be mitigated by training and education, but the reality is that this must start early. Young people need to be exposed to the possibilities and advantages of careers in the trades, something that can only happen if industry and education take a joint approach to the problem.
2. Industry Involvement in Preparing Youth for the Trades
Partnerships with Schools
Industries can engage directly with educational institutions to provide hands-on experience to students. Apprenticeship programs, guest lectures, or “day in the life” sessions can be extremely effective ways of introducing students to the trade. Real-world experience allows students to understand the application of the skills they are learning, making their education feel more relevant.
Sponsorships and Scholarships
Companies can also offer scholarships for trade school tuition or provide the necessary tools and materials for training. This financial assistance removes a significant barrier for many young people who might otherwise not consider such a path due to economic constraints. The Schweiger Memorial Scholarship is one local program working to help bridge the gap between workers and the trades. Awarded more than a dozen monetary awards each year to students and apprentices across the country, this scholarship has helped many find success in their careers.
Experienced workers in the industry can offer guidance, tips, and advice to younger generations through mentorship programs. These relationships offer invaluable support networks and contribute to skill development and professional growth. The Ace Mentorship Program is a local example of a high school after-school program that mentors youth and exposes them to careers in construction and design.
3. Get Schools and Educational Leaders Involved
Aligning curricula with the needs of the industry is a logical first step in getting educators involved. Incorporating technical skills such as carpentry, electrical wiring, and HVAC operations is one part of the equation. These lesson plans also need to include a focus on “soft skills” like communication, teamwork, and problem-solving, as they are frequently cited by employers as equally important. The Beaverton School District in Oregon has worked hard in recent years to create Career Technical Education (CTE) classes, currently offering 33 CTE programs across their high schools, including several focused on trades like carpentry.
Counselors and teachers are essential in helping students set career goals and expectations and opening up possibilities. They should be equipped with the knowledge to guide students interested in more hands-on work toward relevant courses that could eventually lead them to a career in construction.
Emphasizing the Value of Trade Careers
The narrative around vocational careers has traditionally been centered on the idea that joining the trades is a back up option. Educators play a key role in shifting this thinking and help students understand that construction can be a lucrative and fulfilling career. They offer living wage jobs without the crushing debt of many higher education programs. According to the NCCER Research Department, workers report higher levels of satisfaction with careers in construction than in all other industries.
4. Promote the Incentives for Careers in Construction Trades
Many construction jobs offer competitive salaries without the burden of student loan debt. For instance, an experienced electrician or plumber can earn a wage comparable to some white-collar jobs. Additionally, construction workers have received steady wage increases for the last five years. This Forbes article reviewed the top-paying construction jobs, with elevator and escalator installers topping the list, followed by supervisors, pile driver operators and building inspectors.
The perennial demand for construction ensures a certain level of job security. Aside from the many homebuilding projects, private construction and public buildings built each year, infrastructure projects are continually underway, requiring a steady supply of skilled workers. In 2023 alone, predictions say that the construction industry must add more than a half million new workers to meet demand.
The skills acquired in construction trades can eventually lead to self-employment opportunities. For example, starting a small contracting business could offer financial and personal freedom. This option could increase a worker’s ability to choose the types of projects they pursue, their salary and retirement plans.
5. Collaborate to Grow the Work Force
The most effective strategies to grow interest in the trades will involve a cooperative approach between industry leaders and educators. Jointly developed training programs, integrated curricula, and shared resources can all contribute to a more skilled and prepared workforce. These collaborations can also lead to shared funding for essential training programs and equipment, providing the best opportunities for students to learn and apply their skills.
The challenge of preparing youth for careers in construction trades is not insurmountable, but it does require a multifaceted approach involving both industry and educational leaders. From curriculum enhancement to mentorship programs and from scholarships to real-world experience, these efforts can guide young people towards a rewarding career path that fills a societal need.
By acknowledging the skills gap, aligning education with industry requirements, and creating attractive incentives for young people, we can build a sustainable workforce for the construction industry. In doing so, we not only secure the future of the sector but also offer fulfilling, financially rewarding careers to the next generation.