Industry News

Help wipe away the stigma of construction careers

The topic may be worn out but the problem remains red-hot: the construction workforce has shrunk and there’s a serious labor shortage, making it super-hard to find skilled workers these days.

It’s so frustrating that many contractors might be wondering what’s to be done, other than stretching their current workforce thinner or saving up for a concrete-pouring robot.

But there is one thing you can do: encourage young people to join the trades. It may not yield an instant pay-off, but it’s like a public service for the industry that is bound to give you good karma. And a couple of the methods listed below just might have visible returns, in the form of good young workers with plenty of enthusiasm walking through your doors over the next couple of years.

Talk about your work with young people.

Whether it’s at a family reunion or a speaking engagement at the local high school, middle school or elementary school, or even on Reddit—if you like what you do overall, are challenged and satisfied by it, tell that to any young person who asks. Tell them even if they don’t ask.

We’re not saying you should promise young people they’ll be making six figures. That could be misleading. But there is a good chance that they can get a decent paying job with plenty of job security without the crippling debt of a four-year college or university education.

Give young people a few tips on how to get into the trades apart from trade school, i.e. by joining a union or getting a job as a laborer for a GC so they can get a sense of which trades interest them.

Be sure to tell girls who are intrigued that there is plenty of room for them in the trades, too. A young woman posting on Reddit’s construction channel who was interested in a career in hard labor recently got over 50 replies, most all of them encouraging. It only took those people a few minutes out of their day to possibly change her life (and bring another body into construction).

In short, never assume that the young people around you are already against the trades. If you give them a real opening for their curiosity, they might have lots of questions—and even serious interest.

Support organizations that are helping to increase apprenticeship and trade school interest.

Some industry organizations are helping to boost participation in the trades through information sharing or even their own apprenticeship programs.

PHCC (Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors Association) is fighting to get trade schools supported and recognized by the government, and to push educators to get trade classes back in high schools. Numerous companies have used PHCC’s online coursework in conjunction with their own on-site apprenticeship to help grow new skilled and talented workers. If you’re in this trade, joining this organization will help support their mission (and gain you lots of perks).

NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction) publishes apprentice programs on their site and hosts a Career Center on their website for women trying to get their foot in the door in construction, which may be getting easier but can still be a thorny path.

Exhibit at career fairs, and consider offering an apprenticeship.

Construction and skilled trades job fairs already exist all around the country. If you Google either one you’ll find a long list, and there could well be one in your area where you could set up a booth. You never know—you might corale in some great new talent. Here’s one resource for upcoming career fairs.

Want to offer paid training that would help you lock in relationships with motivated young hires? This Department of Labor guide is a very helpful resource if you’re considering starting your own apprenticeship.

Support—or start!—a program like CACTUS.

Some folks are trying to plant the seed that a career in the trades is as good as a desk job (and that a college education isn’t the be-all-end-all) into the minds of kids at a young age.

For example, CACTUS (Careers in Architecture, Construction and Trades Uplifting Students) is a pilot program with one elementary school in Arizona that gives grade school-age students a taste of building things and working with their hands. The hope is that those who are inspired will consider careers in those fields later.

Perhaps, one CACTUS program at a time, we’ll have enough lead time to show kids who are not yet biased toward college that a future in the trades—if you apply yourself and work hard—can mean a rewarding career with a very livable wage.