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By Erica Sweeney
November 7, 2016
The construction industry is facing a crisis of sorts. Its workforce is aging faster than any other industry in the country, and construction companies nationwide are looking to fill multiple positions. There’s one group that industry leaders are hoping will turn it all around — the millennials.
“The issue is a pretty stark one,” says Mike Glavin, director of workforce development policy and programs at Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. “Every indication that we get is that our member companies are desperate for new talent, because they see folks who’ve been there the longest are transitioning out. There really isn’t a significant enough pipeline to continue the general level of talents coming into the industry.”
In 2002, 11 percent of construction workers were 55 and older, which increased to 20.7 percent by 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Populations Survey. In 2005, 10.7 percent of workers were between 20 and 24, but that number declined to 7.3 percent in 2015.
These trends suggest that about 20 percent of all construction workers will retire over the next 10 years, and, a total of 12 percent will be leaving the industry within the next five years.
“We’re facing a little bit of a crisis right now where we’re trying to recruit any of the millennial generation as soon as possible and get them trained and get them to be productive members of the construction workforce,” Glavin explains.
The aging workforce and need to attract millennials into the industry is felt nationwide and across multiple construction sub-sectors.
“There’s a lot of competition for young people coming into the industry,” says Ann Mattheis, director of career development at the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, a trade association for companies in the heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, plumbing, piping and mechanical service sectors.
To attract more millennials into construction, ABC targets high school students and works to recruit them into construction craft training and apprenticeship programs. Glavin explains that ABC is also working to better brand and market these opportunities for students as a first choice career option.
This process starts with clearing up some of the misconceptions about the construction industry and educating students and their parents about the benefits a career in construction can provide. One such misconception is that a career in construction is a last resort for people who may have tried a four-year college and not succeeded.
“We want to make millennials realize they are a perfect fit for our industry,” Glavin explains. “We want to position construction as a proactive first choice, not a fallback. Students, parents and teachers often think a four-year education is the only pathway to a career.”
With its educational affiliate, the National Center for Construction Education and Research, ABC, a national construction industry trade association, offers craft training and apprenticeships in more than 20 different construction crafts. Students who go through the programs, which can take six months to four years to complete and do not require a bachelor’s degree, can go right to work in the industry.
For students choosing to get a four-year degree, Mattheis says a career in mechanical contracting sectors is a good choice. MCAA’s educational programs target college students in engineering, construction management, and other related programs.
The organization has student chapters throughout the country to educate them about the industry and the opportunities it presents. MCAA provides grant funds to encourage its members to hire students and interns, so students can begin earning money before graduation.
“Companies are really eager to put young people in the field,” she insists. “The demand for students with a college degree in an appropriate discipline is very high right now.”
While average salaries in the construction sector vary by geography and the particular craft, Glavin says the industry offers high wages and good benefits.
For example, construction laborers earn an average of $31,910 annually, according to BLS data, while the average annual salary for construction managers is $87,400.
Going the craft training and apprenticeship path means individuals will not accumulate student debt, Glavin explains, and newcomers in the industry can start drawing a salary during their apprenticeships.
In mechanical contracting, Mattheis says, despite the cost of a four-year degree, students can easily go straight into a professional position right after graduation. Salaries average $50,620 for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters, and $38,150 for welders and solderers, according to BLS data.
“Construction is a lifelong career path that’s highly lucrative, not a job,” Glavin says. “It’s a sustaining career where men and women can set their own course.”
In addition, those in the industry can easily work their way up, reach a highly skilled status, and possibly one day own their own business, he says.
The field is also always in demand and credentials can be transferred nationwide. Added benefits are that many construction jobs provide opportunities to travel and work outside. And, then there’s the sense of accomplishment that individuals feel once a project is completed, and the continuous pride of seeing their work on display for years to come.
Part of MCAA’s educational initiative is its annual student summit, which includes a tour of a building, such as a stadium or hospital, to examine its mechanical systems. Mattheis says this is a valuable experience for students.
“You can talk about a job and talk about a theory and put it on a blackboard or read it in a textbook, but when you see a real building, it’s quite an impact,” she explains.
Glavin says construction is an industry that will never be outsourced. And, the industry is hiring. In July 2016, there were 214,000 construction job openings, according to BLS, and the industry is projected to add 790,400 jobs by 2024.
“The jobs are certainly there and the wages are certainly there,” Glavin insists. “It’s just a matter of getting young men and women exposed to the opportunities that the construction industry provides them.”
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