Skilled trades worker shortages in the construction industry as Baby Boomers retire.
The construction industry is one of the key drivers of the American economy, and the demand for construction projects has been on the rise in recent years. Despite the industry’s recovery from the Great Recession, a shortage of skilled trades workers remains a significant challenge for contractors across the country. This shortage has been particularly acute in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has put a spotlight on the critical role that skilled trades workers play in maintaining the health and safety of our communities.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of skilled labor workers in the construction industry has not bounced back to pre-Great Recession levels, even though construction began a meaningful recovery in 2014. This shortage of skilled workers has created hiring and productivity challenges for the industry, particularly in the trades such as plumbing and electrical work. Dan Hartsough, co-owner of Harts Services in Seattle and Tacoma, notes that the skilled trades shortage has been an ongoing challenge for his firm. He adds that there is a lack of awareness about the availability of low- to no-cost options for training, such as trade school or apprenticeships.
Part of the reason for the shortage of trade workers is the push for college education after high school. Hartsough notes that there has been a lack of attention on the trades in recent decades, leading to a lack of recruitment in the field. As Baby Boomers reach retirement or are already there, in many cases, the labor shortage has worsened. This shortage is a problem everywhere in the residential job market nationwide, affecting the plumber, electrical, and HVAC trades.
The solution to this problem lies in recruiting more young people to the skilled trades. Hartsough notes that the college track is not for everyone, and skilled trades offer long-term job and financial security. However, more work needs to be done in the area of recruitment at the high school level, by educating potential recruits about the career opportunities available in the skilled trades. According to Skillwork, skilled trade classes need to be more readily available in high schools to fill the slots opened by retiring Baby Boomers.
Harts Services is one plumbing company that is working to solve the problem. The firm has its plumbing academy where they start 16 to 24 apprentices each year on a three-year program to get their residential plumbing license. It is a paid program, starting at $20 an hour after initial training, and increasing to $65 once participants pass the state test. Hartsough notes that the pay scale for trade workers is not a factor in drawing new recruits, as inflation has meant higher wages. The cost of services will continue to rise as long as demand is there.
The shortage of skilled trades workers in the construction industry is a significant challenge that needs to be addressed urgently. Recruiting more young people to the skilled trades is essential to solving this problem. High schools need to do more to educate their students about the career opportunities available in the trades. Firms in the construction industry should also provide more training opportunities and apprenticeships to help develop the next generation of skilled trades workers. The construction industry is critical to the American economy, and it is vital that we address this labor shortage before it affects our infrastructure and the communities we serve.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, there are over 200,000 unfilled construction jobs in the United States. This shortage is driving up the cost of construction and slowing down projects.
- The average age of skilled trades workers in the United States is 56. As these workers retire, there are not enough new workers to fill their shoes.
- Women make up only 9% of the construction industry workforce. Encouraging more women to enter the skilled trades is essential to solving the labor shortage.
- Skilled trades jobs are in high demand and offer excellent job security.
Skilled trades jobs are also known for providing high wages, as many firms are willing to pay a premium for workers with specialized skills. This has become even more pronounced in recent years, with inflation driving up wages in the construction industry. For example, an experienced electrician can earn an average of $65,000 a year, and a plumber can earn $100,000 or more a year. These wages are often higher than those for many entry-level white-collar jobs, making the skilled trades an attractive career option for many people.
Despite the high wages and job security that come with skilled trades jobs, there is a persistent perception that these jobs are dirty, difficult, and low-paying. This is far from the truth, as many skilled trades jobs are highly technical and require extensive training and knowledge. For example, electricians must have a deep understanding of complex electrical systems, and plumbers must be able to diagnose and fix a wide range of problems with pipes, drains, and sewage systems.
To overcome this perception, the construction industry needs to do more to promote the benefits of skilled trades jobs to young people. This includes working with high schools and vocational schools to provide more information about career opportunities in the trades. It also means providing more apprenticeships and on-the-job training to help young people develop the skills they need to succeed in the industry. By doing so, the industry can attract more young people to the skilled trades and ensure that there are enough workers to meet the growing demand for construction projects.
Bottom line, the shortage of skilled trades workers in the construction industry is a significant challenge that needs to be addressed urgently. While there is no quick fix to this problem, there are steps that the industry can take to attract more young people to the skilled trades. By working with high schools and vocational schools to provide more information about career opportunities in the trades, and by providing more apprenticeships and on-the-job training, the industry can develop the next generation of skilled workers who will help drive the American economy forward. With a renewed focus on recruitment and training, the construction industry can overcome the challenges posed by the labor shortage and continue to grow and thrive in the years to come.