Construction Labor Mythbusting

Recent surveys reveal the top myths perpetuating the construction labor shortage and suggestions as to how to bust these myths and bring in new workers

Myth Busted

If you read the title of this blog and you're a fan of the show Mythbusters (like I am), you might think, hey construction mythbusting could be a cool show. Sadly, this blog is not a television show pitch although maybe someone should suggest that!

By now, you're probably tired of reading and hearing and living the construction labor shortage. Unfortunately, a solution doesn't seem imminent in the near future. One of the biggest challenges co-existing with the labor shortage is combating the public perception of the industry and construction jobs.

Recent research from Dodge Data & Analytics for the Q1 2019 Commercial Construction Index dove into construction careers. Dodge wanted to survey those in the industry to better understand the advantages of a construction career and how those advantages are typically misunderstood. Dodge also wanted to find out what aspects of construction may be most appealing to people under the age of 30.

Dodge asked survey participants to select the top three reasons they find construction to be a good career choice. The top choice, chosen by 70% of respondents, was earning potential. Coming in second with 43% of respondents citing it was opportunities for career advancement. Another 37% cited the ability to gain skills on the job as a top reason construction is a good career choice.

These mirror the top myths cited about the industry. Forty percent of survey respondents said there is a misconception that construction is a low-paying job that cannot provide enough pay to support a family.

Another top myth is that construction is a dirty job. I'd say this isn't necessarily a myth, but not all construction jobs are dirty. And those that are aren't necessarily any less important. Many of the most critical jobs that allow us to live the comfortable lives we do are "dirty."

Why Doesn’t Society Value Dirty Jobs?

Rounding out the myths survey respondents believe are inhibiting more people from entering the industry are that construction requires brute strenth and not training, and that it is just a "job" and not a "real career." These myths are in direct opposition to the responses of why contractors value their jobs in construction.

Earlier this year, BigRentz conducted its own survey of 3,000 people ages 18 to 24 to find out their perceptions of trade schools. I think the BigRentz survey ties in nicely with the Dodge Data survey results. According to the BigRentz survey, only 11% of respondents thought trade schools led to high paying jobs (circle back to the top benefit and myth from Dodge Data).

The BigRentz survey also revealed that respondents don't associate trade schools with job security, and 54% of respondents believe the pay gap between earnings with a trade school certificate/degree versus a bachelors degree is much higher than it actually is.

These two surveys give us some solid data and reasons as to why this labor shortage continues to exist. The respondents to the Dodge survey indicated developing a better reputation for the industry as a high paying industry would be a top way to recruit more workers. It's not even that we need to start paying higher, it's that we need the general public (and the younger generation) to recognize this is already the case.

Build Your Future has a pretty cool feature on it's website trying to do just this. The "trading cards" section of the Build Your Future website is a great resource for the general public to see the high pay and earning potential of the industry. In fact, this page lets visitors select the minimum salary they'd like to receive and then shows the related construction careers that offer that earning potential. If you spend any time talking at local schools to inform students about careers in construction, this could be a cool, interactive resource to share.

Stop talking start doing

The thing is, we talk about the labor shortage and the challenges of recruiting constantly. As an industry, we need to stop talking and start acting. Sure, these statistics are good to know, but now it's time to do something about them. I know lots of contractors are trying to solve the labor shortage problem, but it's time for a big, industry-wide solution that can help turn this situation around. It's time to look at these survey results and these myths and do something to change them.

The Dodge survey also asked respondents what they think are the top ways to attract workers under 30 to the industry. High pay was the top suggestion followed by good benefits. Of course, we all want that. Promoting a clear path for advancement, satisfaction derived from making something and the ability to work with technology were also cited.

Offering a 401(k) Can Help with Recruiting, Worker Retention

The problem comes in with exactly how to do this. Ways to recruit are so fragmented that when contractors were asked to identify all means for recruiting workers, no single recruitment strategy was selected by even half of the Dodge survey respondents.

Dodge Data said it best, "With no standard ways to find workers, it is not surprising that the positive message about construction careers can become diluted."

So, it's time to set a standard. Who will be the one to break down the barriers? Who has the next big idea to reverse the labor shortage and give us in the construction media something else to write about? Who can find a way to turn these survey responses into the solution to the construction labor shortage?

Someone, some company, some association someone has to take over the reins and lead the pack. And the rest of the industry has to be ready to see this leader emerge and follow the standards being set.

Will it be you?

The labor shortage is a hot topic, and clearly there are so many ideas. We'd love to hear your thoughts and reactions. Share your thoughts and comments with me at [email protected], in the comments for this blog, or start a conversation on social media with on Facebook and Twitter.

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