Construction, Higher Education, and Human Resources

Skilled labor and the construction industry

February 2, 2017
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For the past few years, America has been going through a shortage as it relates to skilled trades. There are not enough workers to move our economy forward, despite demand for this type of work growing.

The construction industry has been hit hard by this shortage, with 80 percent of construction companies reporting that finding skilled employees has been difficult. In West Michigan there is a new construction project on every corner, and many local companies are struggling to find the manpower locally.

The skilled trades shortage has been an issue that’s been building up within our workforce over the past few years due to economic hits and changing attitudes toward post-secondary education.

The four-year degree focus

In the past 20 years, emphasis has been on attending four-year colleges and obtaining a bachelor’s degree or higher. Little emphasis, however, has been put on career opportunities available within skilled trade positions, which provide a decent living wage and — now that we are past the recession — job security. Young adults thinking about the workforce, however, do not factor in skilled trade careers and more than half of skilled trade workers are 45 or older. According to a poll done by RIDGID, a professional trade tool supplier, only 6 percent of high school students will consider a career in the skilled trade industry.

Due to the heavy focus on four-year degrees, the educational opportunities for skilled trade positions in the United States are not what they could be. With limited and sub-par training options, the talent pool is becoming more and more unqualified, with job postings left open for months.

The recession aftermath

While many industries are seeing recovery and growth since the 2008 recession, skilled trade jobs are still reeling from the aftermath. During this time, projects were put off as budgets grew tighter. With less work, fewer employees were needed and skilled workers were laid off.

Now that the country has bounced back, there are more construction developments in the works, meaning more demand for skilled workers. But there is an imbalance, as the number of employees in the industry is about 17 percent less than what it was pre-recession. According to an analysis of Labor Department data released by the Associated General Contractors of America, 34 states added construction jobs between November 2015 and November 2016, while construction employment increased in 29 states and the District of Columbia during the past month.

Looking forward

For the industry to solve this problem, there needs to be a bigger focus on trade schools, as well as a change in attitude toward skilled trade jobs. Many economists point toward this type of work as sustainable and well-paying for millennials entering the workforce. And unlike students graduating from four-year colleges, those coming out of trade schools have much less debt — or none — from their education, with trade schools costing around $1,200 per semester.

One of the focuses in 2017 for our firm will be the launch of our own general trades division, creating a solution for the growing issue. By including this in all we do, we will be able to train people to do skilled work and fill job gaps within the construction industry. Filling this gap and growing skilled trades means we all have to do our part.

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