Where is the next generation of construction leaders? It’s one question everyone in construction, from builders to framers, has been asking themselves. It’s an especially relevant question given the ongoing labor shortage—a situation likely to worsen with enforcement up on immigration laws.
Upcoming talent is a significant health indicator for any industry, and that goes double for the labor-strapped construction industry. According to an NAHB study published last year, the next generation of construction labor may not be waiting in the wings.
How the Construction Trades Fared
The survey respondents ranged from 18-25 and included 2001 people selected to create proportional representation along race and gender lines. In this group, 74% felt they had decided on a career, while 26% were still undecided. The top draws included management, IT, and the medical field.
Unfortunately, for those who are decided, only 3% plan to pick up a hard hat anytime soon. Though the numbers are higher among white and Hispanic men, few young people overall seem decided on a career in the construction trades.
Choosing a Field
The good news is that undecided young adults are more open to considering it, with a few caveats. Many Millenials seem less moved by pay than interest – they want a job they love. The second largest group of ‘decided’ respondents indicated they chose their field based on skills they already possess.
While pay is not a primary motivator, undecided young adults seemed more open than their decided peers to choosing a career based on compensation.
Perceptions of the Construction Trade Among Young Adults
There seems to be a gap between what young adults want and what construction offers.
However, it seems to be due in part to a perception problem—not a genuine mismatch.
Young adults who felt strongly against a career in construction cited their perception of construction work as “difficult” (32%) and physically demanding (48%). They doubted the pay would make up for these perceived deficiencies. 19% said they “wanted to make more money than people in construction trades make.”
Just 13% thought construction work could yield salaries of over $75,000.
Finding out construction work might, in fact, command a higher paycheck than they thought led many to second-guess their decisions.
The jump is particularly noticeable at $75,000.
While most construction roles don’t earn that amount, a substantial minority do—including supervisors, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamers. US Bureau of Labor data indicates that one-fourth of those key roles are filled by workers making more than $75,000 in 27 states for supervisors, and in 14 states for other skilled roles, respectively. The top 10% of most construction trades also make more than the cut-off.
Of course, rising to the top of any profession requires skill and work. But the rewards may be worthwhile. Management and executive positions in construction often go to those with the most experience in the trades. In construction, it’s relatively easy, in other words, to start at the bottom and work your way up. And that’s what this achievement-minded age group really wants.
Construction trades suffer from an image problem among Millenials and Gen Z. If the industry emphasizes that the construction jobsite can be a safe place to make a living– and that numerous opportunities for advancement and pay raises are available—we can begin building the construction leaders of the future.