Commercial Construction: Workload Rising, Workforce Declining. Inspiring Young Americans to Choose a Career in Commercial Construction
By Chris Tilton
There’s been a lot of talk recently about how automation may soon replace people in the workforce in areas from transportation to financial sectors and others. Some academic counselors are even advising students not to pursue certain fields of study once thought to be sure bets for good future employment because a job may not be waiting for them when they get out of school.
One exception is the commercial construction industry.
Although it has benefited from many advancements in robotics, the commercial construction industry still needs skilled tradespeople to fill positions now and into the future. They include, among others, carpenters and concrete mixers, crew leaders and office managers with an immediate and ongoing need for qualified workers from entry level to management.
But the industry workforce is not growing as it should, so its leaders must do a better job of inspiring young people to seek careers in commercial construction.
Since the end of the 2008 recession, the workload has been steadily rising, but the workforce has failed to keep pace with qualified applicants needed for mid-level management positions and skilled labor jobs.
A recent study by the Associated General Contractors of America found that 73 percent of construction firms in the U.S. plan to expand their payrolls this year to meet project demands, but those surveyed also expressed concerns about the availability of qualified workers to fill those positions.
Europe is experiencing similar issues. According to a recent report in the United Kingdom’s Daily Telegraph, the construction industry will create nearly 200,000 new jobs over the next five years as demand for new homes fuels a boom in the sector.
So why is there such a large gap in the construction workforce? There are a number of reasons. Those who are in the profession are getting older and many mid-level professionals left during the recession to pursue other careers. Our industry must do more to retain the workers we have and lure back those who left, such as offering incentives like project completion bonuses.
But the big problem is that too few young people are pursuing construction jobs out of high school or college. That’s partly because the construction sector has an image problem and millennials tend to view the industry as old fashioned and not very dynamic. They also want security and variety in their careers and want to be challenged and valued.
So the construction industry has work to do to convince millennials of the value of working in construction. In reality, it has something for virtually everyone, from project management to 3D design and modeling, historic preservation, masonry, carpentry and more.
If we want to attract graduate-level talent from our colleges and universities, we need to change perceptions of our industry. As an example, a study by the National Association of Home Builders found that only three percent of young adults were interested in construction trades, citing the physical demands of difficult work as deterrents.
They also generally underestimated the financial benefits of a career in the construction trades. While it’s only one piece of the total employment package, competitive compensation is important. Normally, base salary is determined by the scope of the employee’s responsibilities, qualifications and years of experience. Construction workers earn an average salary of $31,910 per year. The average salary for a construction manager is $73,087 per year. Most companies offer a variety of programs that expand upon your benefits and compensation package too, and this information needs to be shared with our young workforce.
We should work closely with academic and technical colleges, as well as high schools, to provide information about the benefits of a career in commercial construction and its promising future. We should also offer more internships and apprenticeships that encourage young people to try construction and gain work experience while they learn a skill. By working with educators, we can help them define and streamline their programs to better focus on developing skill sets that are critically needed in the commercial construction industry.
Chris Tilton is the co-founder of the Dewitt Tilton Group, a Savannah area commercial construction company. For more information or to contact Tilton, call 912.777.3404 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.