The construction industry is on the rebound after the Great Recession and spending is at an all-time high. In November, investment in new projects peaked at $1 trillion. Still, there’s a critical obstacle in the way of further progress — a severe labor shortage and a skills gap.
According to the 2017 Construction Outlook Survey, 73 percent of firms plan to employ more workers. However, they are finding it difficult to fill their vacancies. The shortage of skilled workers is partly the result of the economic downturn, which forced experienced workers to seek alternative employment. In fact, since the recession, more than 1.5 million construction workers left the industry.
The NAHB revealed 82% of its members reported availability of labor was one of their top issues. Seven years ago, only 13% reported labor as their top concern.
The National Association of Home Builders revealed 82 percent of its member organizations reported availability of labor was one of their top issues. Seven years ago, only 13 percent reported labor as their top concern. As a result of this, the construction industry regularly sees contractors who have to turn down work given a labor or skills shortage.
Below, we look at strategies high schools, trade schools, and colleges can use to close the skills gap and combat the labor shortage.
Vocational education seems to have disappeared from many of America’s high schools, most likely prompted by the constant message that college is the only route for successful careers. From early on, this message needs to change. Students are being funneled into academic-only further study which could leave them heavily in debt; with a nudge in the right direction, they could head for early success in construction instead.
In the building trade, there is the potential for high wages, even higher demand and self-employment. Unused wood and metal shops are just sitting idle. Therefore, it is high time vocational training makes a big return to high schools.
Part of the issue is the image associated with construction work. The preconceptions that the work is low-pay and dangerous don’t help, either.
There is some hope — California, for example, has committed $1.5 billion to better vocational and technical education programs through helping public schools establish partnerships with colleges and companies.
Part of the issue is the image associated with construction work. The preconceptions that the work is low-pay and dangerous don’t help, either. That’s why the nationwide Go Build initiative has launched with the aim of informing educators and parents that building is more lucrative than ever — plumbers can make up to $100,000 per year.
Organizations such as the Home Builders Institute are focusing on educational programs and trade schools, offering immediate opportunities through construction skills training to at-risk youth, ex-offenders, and veterans. It allows them to bypass the traditional four-year degree pathway.
One facility that proves how successful trade schools can be is the Career Technical Education Facility in Peyton, Colo. This facility has partnered with more than a dozen schools in Colorado to give students updated skills in tool handling, woodwork, and general construction.
Certain initiatives, such as the Minnesota Jobs Skills Partnership, are proactively helping address the skills gap in construction by drawing in colleges to help educate existing and new workers in the industry. Such programs provide grants to community colleges and companies to build training programs for construction employment.
Such programs provide grants to community colleges and companies to build training programs for construction employment.
For example, one grant of $350,000 went to Anoka-Ramsey Community College and API Group to help train 571 workers for two years on new technology within the industry, on field leadership, and work processes.
There is some headway visible in the move to close the skills gap in construction. These strategies are truly crucial in the early educational stages. High schools, colleges, and trade schools can work together to brainstorm additional ways to increase interest in the industry and move to create qualified labor for the future.