A New Workforce Development Coalition

Currently, construction firms across the country report challenges with filling job openings in all aspects of their businesses. “Workforce shortages remain one of the single most significant threats to the construction industry,” Stephen E. Sandherr, Associated General Contractors’ CEO, recently said in a statement.

Groups share resources and knowledge to address the chronic labor shortage

By Tim Seyler

Seyler Tim Summit Revised

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were about 300,000 vacancies in the construction industry as of June 2020. The industry is expected to need 747,000 more employees by 2026. That is a 6.6% increase over the current 11 million people employed in the industry, for an average annual growth rate of about 1.0%.

Achieving that objective is not likely, considering that BLS also reports that total U.S. employment is projected to grow only 0.4% annually through the decade 2019 to 2029. That is in comparison to the 1.3% annual growth rate experienced from 2009 to 2019. This reduction in the labor force growth rate is due, in part, to an aging population and slower population growth among Latinos, trends which are not reversible.

The possibility that industry may fall far short of increasing its workforce at 1.0% annually is real.

The construction industry is working aggressively to attract a broader demographic to populate and fill this need. To accomplish this, we need to change old paradigms that have driven younger generations away from construction and toward other careers.

The construction industry has long had a reputation as the last resort for employment for many. This has persisted even though there is a wide range of career opportunities. A recent United Kingdom poll discovered that 35% of career advisors would not recommend the industry to a young person planning their future. Here in the U.S., our own social culture has long promoted to high-school graduates that a college degree was the best path to a successful career. These well-meaning efforts have guided an enormous pool of potential candidates for construction careers into ill-fated academic environments.

Currently, the unemployment rate for young college graduates exceeds that of the general population. In addition, about 41% of recent college graduates—and 33.8% of all college graduates—are underemployed. They are working in jobs that don’t require a college degree, according to new data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

In addition to not working in an occupation for which they have spent years studying, they begin their careers burdened with debt. Forbes magazine reports that the latest student loan debt statistics for 2020 show how serious the student loan debt crisis has become for borrowers across all demographics and age groups. In the U.S., 45 million borrowers collectively owe nearly $1.6 trillion in student loan debt. Student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category, behind only mortgage debt, and higher than both credit cards and auto loans. The average student loan debt for members of the class of 2018 is $29,200, a 2% increase from the prior year, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

If 33.8% of graduates are underemployed, that means it’s likely that 33.8% of these students are paying debt by working in a trade or occupation that was not their course of study.

A recent report by U.S. News & World Report explains why it is not necessary to have a college degree to hit the job market. College is not for everyone but skipping out on a degree does not mean missing out on a high-paying job. U.S. News lists the best jobs without a college degree and includes careers for those with a high school diploma or associate degree. Some jobs that do not require a degree call for apprenticeship training or certificate completion before getting started. Others may require you to dive right in and learn on the job. These are the criteria which precisely describe many construction careers.

A search on the U.S. News website for the 10 highest paying jobs without a college degree produce a result in which five of the 10 are in construction-related occupations.

Today, entry-level workers can enter the workforce directly out of high school or vocational school, and often at higher salaries than many white-collar college grads without taking on years of debt. The opportunity is available to younger generations to begin careers and achieve financial stability early in life.

Across the country, many of our industry associations, general contractors, construction management firms and specialty contractors have been creating programs to present construction as an engaging, rewarding career opportunity. These programs, a component of workforce development, are geared for presentation to students from grade school through high school.

Earlier this year a group from the metal construction industry considered the possibility of creating a platform or coalition from which individual efforts in workforce development could join to create a larger voice. The group included Art Hance, president, Metal Building Contractors Association; and Dick Bus, president, Metal Roofing Alliance, and me as president of the Metal Buildings Institute.

In July, invitations were sent to a list of groups with recognized efforts promoting workforce development, and influencers in the construction industry to gauge their interest in joining efforts.

To date, participants in this initiative include:

We have titled this endeavor the “Workforce Development Coalition.”

Representatives from each of these groups are now participating in monthly meetings. The group began by sharing each of their efforts, experiences and results in workforce development.

A survey of the participants to define group objectives resulted in the following:

  • Promoting awareness of the trades as a career
  • Create a movement and groundswell of pride in the trades
  • Share information, resources and data to strengthen all our efforts
  • Participate in a group marketing campaign

The coalition is just beginning the development of programming toward each of our objectives. Every effort to promote workforce development gains the attention of a segment of the younger workforce. Our effort here is to find ways to increase that footprint and present the message of opportunity to the entire generation.

We invite other interested parties to join our effort.

The future success of the industry, and our individual companies, will be measured by our ability to attract young, new talent to fill the boundless opportunities that exist.

Tim Seyler is president of the Metal Buildings Institute, and a director and past president of the Metal Building Contractors & Erectors Association. He started S&S Structures, Fleetwood, Pa., in partnership with his late father in 1986.