It’s no surprise to say that the construction industry is lacking laborers. This has been the topic of discussion in the industry for a few years now. While the housing and construction industries are booming, there just aren’t enough laborers to fill the demand. At Zeeland Lumber & Supply we strive to be a part of this conversation. We’re in the construction industry because we love it — we feel that we’re building dreams every single day.
But how can we encourage other people with the skills and the interest to get involved in the industry too?
We don’t have all the answers, but we do have some thoughts. Here’s our analysis of the problem, along with a few things we’re doing to get involved in the conversation. If you’d like to add your voice to the conversation too, we’ve also included a list of local organizations we’ve worked with to boost education and training for the next generation of construction laborers.
The biggest problem with the lack of laborers in the construction industry is found in the demographics. Recent studies have shown that less than 2 percent of the construction industry’s workforce is between 16 and 19 years old, and fewer than 9.4 percent of the workforce is under 25. What that means is the majority of our workforce is made up of seasoned team members. While we love our more experienced team, the problem is that we won’t have anyone to take their place when they’re ready to retire.
Most experts are attributing the lack of skilled laborers in younger generations to the heavy push in the ’90s and early 2000s to get kids to go to college. Schools have cut funding on wood shop, auto, and other trade programs, which removes the awareness of opportunity for many high school aged kids who may not want to go to college.
Sharing the Message, and Changing the Conversation
While college is a great option for many high school grads, it’s not the only option. Unfortunately, that’s a message that’s been lost recently in most post-graduation preparatory lectures and courses. Trade schools and apprenticeships afford a very real and well-paying career path for a number of students, but there is a misconception by many parents and educators that a trade career isn’t sustainable, and can’t afford kids a fulfilling career.
Construction Industry Positives
As people who work in construction every day, sometimes the benefits seem obvious to us. In order to change the conversation around construction careers, we need to voice the positives of this industry to younger generations. Just a few of the construction industry positives for new laborers include:
- A Lifetime Career that Doesn’t Require a Four-Year Degree. With internships and work/study programs, many high schoolers can graduate directly into the construction industry, and some are even paid for their training through high school. This ensures they can move swiftly into the industry without debt, and can be well on their way to a management position by the time their peers are graduating from college.
- Competitive Wages and Benefits – Given the shortage of laborers, more and more construction companies are increasing the wages and benefits they offer to attract more skilled team members. Even entry-level construction wages have gone up significantly in the past few years, and given the increasing demand of the housing market, it’s not unlikely to see them continue to rise.
- Job Security – A recent study done on construction contractors showed that on average, contractors have a 9.3 month backlog of work, and high confidence in the market’s ability to provide new business. People will always need homes and buildings, which means they’ll always need someone to build them.
Increasingly Sustainable Industry – Younger generations place a high value on environmentally friendly, sustainable solutions, and they’ll be happy to know that sustainable building is one of the industry’s most lucrative, growing segments.
- A Fulfilling Career – At Zeeland Lumber & Supply, we often talk about “building dreams” because that’s really at the heart of everything we do. Every product we sell goes to build someone’s dream home or property. Every contractor we work with is remodeling someone’s family home, installing an outdoor space for entertaining, or building a barn to further someone else’s livelihood. It’s these qualities and aspects of building dreams that make the construction industry a truly rewarding place to work.
Sharing the Message
It’s up to us to re-engage the next generation of workers at the student level. The best way to show new people how much the industry has to offer is to engage them directly with classes, training, summer internships, and other opportunities that let newcomers experience the benefits of construction first-hand.
If you’re not sure how you or your company can get involved, try reaching out to your local high school or a nearby trade school. Are they looking for part-time teachers or a speaker for an upcoming event? Maybe you can donate scrap materials or used tools to help keep a wood shop class running. There are a number of ways to get involved, especially here in West Michigan. For a little bit more inspiration, here are some organizations and career events we’ve worked with in the past:
- We Build Michigan – Also known as the Construction Workers Development Alliance (CWDA), We Build Michigan works to present the construction industry as a smart career option for the next generation. They’ve developed a number of programs that help bring construction education to high schoolers and young adults, and they run a number of fundraising events to support their own programs, and other construction development programs.
- JumpStart – Started by the CWDA, JumpStart is a training program that provides entry-level construction training to young adults aged 18-25. The CWDA provides full scholarships to all students enrolled in the program, where every student graduates with an OSHA 10-hour card, a rough terrain forklift license, an aerial lift license, and a First Aid/CPR card. The program partners with local employers in the construction trades to provide job shadow experiences and interview students upon graduation.
- Construction Alliance Rally – If you’re not sure about participating in a course like JumpStart, sign up for the CWDA’s annual Construction Alliance Rally! An engaging fundraiser, the rally invites commercial and residential construction professionals to come together for a night of construction-related games, food, and beverages. Sign up a team of three from your company to compete in the rally, or just sign up to attend. It’s a fun outing for everyone, and all the proceeds go to support programs like JumpStart, MiCareerQuest, and other organizations that encourage education and employment in the construction industry.
- MiCareerQuest – MiCareerQuest started as a career fair designed to address impending workforce shortages in construction, healthcare, IT, and manufacturing, but has spread to be so much more. Not only does MiCareerQuest partner with local companies to match them with interested students, but they put on engaging events, “career exploration experiences,” that allow students to engage with working professionals and participate in industry-related activities. MiCareerQuest helps open students’ eyes to the viability of careers in industries like construction.
While these are certainly not all of the events and organizations dedicated to bolstering the construction labor force, they are a great place to start, especially for our clients and customers here in West Michigan.
In the end, filling the labor gap in the construction industry will take education, training, and hard work to help change students’ perception of the industry. It’s a long-term process, and one that Zeeland Lumber & Supply is especially dedicated to.
We’re looking down the road, into the future of the construction industry, and we’re working hard to make sure we’re at the forefront of the technological advances heading our way. To achieve our goals, and to keep the construction industry thriving, we’d like to engage younger generations, and share with them this message of opportunity.
We welcome newcomers to the industry, and if there are ways we can help you engage with and inform potential new construction laborers, we’re here to help. And if you’re looking for a position in the construction industry, be sure to check out the jobs we have available.