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Construction industry rethinking how to get kids back into the trades

A national coalition of construction companies is aiming for a younger population to eventually address the workforce shortage crisis affecting the country.

The Associated General Contractors of America teamed up with the design software company Autodesk to conduct a national survey about their current worker shortage. Conducted between June and August with over 2,500 responses, 80 percent of those companies said that they are having difficulty filling hourly trade positions.

And 48 percent of those surveyed expect it become harder to hire tradesmen in the next 12 months.
“Labor shortages are significant and widespread and that’s clear based on the results,” said Ken Simonson, AGC’s chief economist. “Contractors are also pessimistic about the labor market because many of them have a low opinion of the quality of the pipeline.”

KEN SIMONSON

While New York City is home to large developments and infrastructure works, Simonson said the state overall has struggled to cope with the shortage.

According to AGC’s New York survey results, 79 percent of companies said that they’re having a hard time filling craft positions and 56 percent said it would become harder to hire those positions in the coming year. Many companies throughout the nation were forced to change how they do things to address the situation, including increasing their employees’ pay and benefits, hiring interns, offering more in-house training and utilizing labor-saving tech. The staffing challenges have forced companies to increase the cost and estimated completion time of their projects, raising their bids for projects at the same time.

To tackle the complex issue of nationwide workforce shortage, AGC is looking to change the misperception of the industry and hopefully appeal to a younger crowd to secure a healthier talent pipeline.

Many state chapters of AGC have been working with local middle school or high school groups to try and convince children of the success they can find in construction.

“[Society has] done a great job over the years of convincing every parent and educator that you have to go to college to have a good life and profession and that’s just not true,” Robert Lee, director of preconstruction services for Virginia-based English Construction, said. “To get the word out that you can have a successful job and not be in debt after four years of college is a great message.”

Steve Malaney, the president of P&C Construction in Oregon, said that they often attend career days that only amount to 15-minute conversations with the youth. Instead, Malaney and the Portland AGC branch have been reaching out to parents and educators and getting them to spend a day on a project site.

After exposing them to the industry, construction companies are hoping that educators spread the word to their students and help change their opinion.

Malaney said more than 70 teachers in five different locations are set up for next year’s visiting program and the results would mean more teachers with construction knowledge in classrooms.

And to attract a younger tech-savvy crowd, AGC and Autodesk are trying to promote the technology-heavy aspect of industry that’s coming forward.

Sarah Hodges, Autodesk’s senior director for construction business line, said that she’s spoken to students who were interested in construction only to have their attention drawn away by the allure of opportunities with Silicon Valley. But she argues that technology is becoming more prevalent in construction and would offer a strong career starting point.

“It’s on us to think about…how we make our tools and training become that bridge to help meet the demand of the construction industry,” Hodges said.

“We want to be a change agent in terms of how we make sure we’re communicating the excitement and opportunities that are available in construction.”

Ultimately, AGC is hoping that by changing the preconceived notions of a construction job in the minds of the youth, the worker shortage will be far less severe in the future.

“Construction is not just that dirty, dangerous, dead-end career that some people may think of,” Simonson said. “But it provides great opportunity to use cool tools and technology of many kinds.”

Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, commented,

“The AGC report further validates the need for a strong and vibrant Building Trades that provides the necessary training to ensure we have a skilled workforce.

GARY LABARBERA

“Not only do we maintain a workforce of over 100,000 construction workers who are the best trained in the nation, but we also work every day to bring nonunionized workers into the skilled trades to further their careers and abilities.

“Additionally through the Building Trades apprenticeship programs, we have brought thousands of diverse New Yorkers into the skilled trades and plan to expand upon those programs in the future.”

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