Sr. Business Writer
From beer to the Big Mac, there’s a huge list of things millennials are being perennially blamed for ruining for the rest of the world. Judging by the latest headlines, you may be tempted to add the construction industry’s labor woes to this list.
Not so fast. What if you viewed this generation’s lack of interest in swinging a hammer as an opportunity? Why not tap into this decline in young construction workers as a chance to draw attention to high-paying construction jobs? In other words, maybe it is time to make lemonade out of labor lemons.
First, let’s take a closer look at why construction companies of all stripes—from roofing to concrete—are struggling to interest a generation of workers they desperately need to hire, train, and retain for the future.
Who’s to Blame for Low Interest?
With construction backlogs building and 2018 demand holding strong, many in the industry are worried about why younger workers have lost interest in construction. The percentage of workers who are 24 years old or younger has declined in 48 states since the last housing boom in 2005, according to BuildZoom. In fact, nationally this number has dropped 30% from 2005 and 2016.
Here are the basics: Flashback to pre-housing crisis and you’ll find 11.7 million construction workers in 2005. This number fell to 10.8 million in 2010 and kept dropping, eventually recovering to 10.2 percent in 2016. In 2015, just 7.3% of construction workers were aged 20-24, compared to 20.7% aged 55 and older, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Many place the blame squarely on high schools who cut vocational training programs and the pressure for every child to attend college. Others say builders are partly responsible as rising cost and thin profit margins equate to fewer dollars invested to train the next generation of construction workers.
What’s at Stake with Talent Gap?
According to a recent AGC/FMI Risk Study, 88 percent of engineering and construction companies are facing real risks due to the lack of skilled craft workers available. Of those, 67 percent reported having a limited number of available field supervisors.
It’s not just the risk of not having enough boots in the field. FMI did a closer look at the talent shortage and found that with baby boomers retiring daily, the construction industry could lose between 14% and 20% of certain employee groups, including executives, senior managers, field managers and project managers, over the next five years. A major loss of industry experience and knowledge will likely have a dramatic impact on construction in the coming years.
This should be viewed as a golden opportunity for millennials. Many have student loans or are finding a job market where low-paying service positions are plentiful. But turning this trend around is proving tough. There are some bright spots as construction organizations, high schools, and community colleges have begun to answer the call. For example, the Home Builders Institute trains at-risk youth, ex-offenders, high-school students, and military personnel transitioning into the civilian workforce in the construction trade. Of the 8,000 to 9,000 students moving through the Home Builders Institute program at any given time, 86% of them are placed in jobs in the industry.
Using Tech and Higher Wages to Attract Younger Workers
Construction is often slammed for being too slow to innovate and adapt to new digital tools. But many construction firms realize that incorporating emerging technology is a great way to attract and retain the next generation. Some of this new tech includes drones, artificial intelligence, augmented reality/virtual reality, smartphone apps, tablets, and wearables.
Whether trying to attract millennials (those born between 1981 and 1998) or retain Gen X-ers (born between 1965-1980), more and more companies are embracing construction tech as their secret hiring weapon. In a recent NRCA newsletter, Chad Hollingsworth, co-founder and CEO of Triax Technologies, Norwalk, Conn., was quoted as saying: “Millennials have grown up attached to technology. Job sites today are so far removed from what millennials have come to expect in their daily lives. They expect new solutions to do their job better, to get rid of manual processes.”
Rising wages are also helping. The average hourly wage in construction exceeded $30 an hour in September for the first time, according to the AGC. This amount is 3.1 percent higher than the comparable figure from a year earlier. The industry’s average hourly wages are now 10.7 percent higher than those for all non-farm private-sector jobs.
Contractors are also starting to understand that younger workers want flexible schedules, prefer to work independently, and require lots of upward mobility. While this may stand in stark contrast to the boomer generation, automation and digital tools are a great way to guarantee these perks to millennials.
Taking Small Steps Toward Automation
While some of the more innovative tech may seem too futuristic, i.e. not everyone is ready for a robotic exoskeleton. But if your construction veterans are nearing retirement and hesitant about learning new systems, hiring tech-savvy younger workers can make for a happy way to balance tech with real-world experience. This allows you to transition toward automation and digital tools more logically and effectively.
If you’re ready to add digital tools to automate your preconstruction process, On Center can help. Download our eBook, Estimators Guide to Assessing and Picking the Right Software, for a step-by-step guide on how to pick the right tools for your trade.
If you know you need new tools, you can always download a 14-day, risk-free trial of On-Screen Takeoff. Our industry-leading tool was named to Gartner’s FrontRunners Quadrant* and was ranked No. 1 for the sixth straight year in the JBKnowledge ConTech Report.