For a growing number of contractors, the worker shortage is reaching a critical stage, and the problem will only worsen as increasing numbers of construction workers “age out” and take their knowledge and skills with them. Some estimates predict a shortage of 31 million skilled tradespeople by the year 2020, much of it through natural attrition as increasing numbers of baby boomers exit the workforce.
Finding willing participants to fill these vacancies will prove difficult. As a rule, the industry has struggled to attract new hires, and it will face a far more difficult task luring the current generation. Today’s new workers have been raised on a steady diet of high-tech devices and visual stimulation, and collectively pushed toward university degrees and white collar fields by parents and school administrations. They will prove a tough nut to crack when it comes to opening their eyes and minds to construction’s wide-ranging opportunities.
So how do you crack this “nut?” Start by assessing how you can work through local schools to get their attention. This generally means “showing them the money,” such as work study programs and paid apprenticeships; scholarships for those entering technical fields; tuition reimbursement programs, etc. Highlight available opportunities with your company in school newspapers, community news sites and especially on social media sites. You might even create a short YouTube or Facebook video designed to appeal to this more visually oriented audience.
Next, consider hosting guided tours at a local jobsite; open houses where students and other visitors can climb in equipment; and career fairs, perhaps with some incentive for students who attend. The industry is at a fascinating juncture as technology introduction and adoption advance rapidly, much of which has potential to appeal to gamers and techies if they’re made aware of it. Even the equipment operating environment has become more adapted to those who grew up glued to an Xbox, smartphone or tablet, with its automotive-style amenities and touch screen monitors. Have them climb in the cab, regale them with tales of the dollars and cents of this rewarding career choice and they could be hooked.
Technology is opening new career paths, as well, many of which can prove attractive to today’s youth — for example, certified drone operator and flight planner, or telematics data analyst. Even service technicians must be versed in the use of laptops and tablets as they address the needs of today’s electronically controlled machines.
Even if high-tech roles haven’t emerged within your company yet, examine the ways technology is influencing your jobsites (e.g., mobile apps), or other benefits your company offers could be used as a marketing tool to attract young workers.
The point is that attracting new hires to the industry isn’t just a matter of putting out a “Help Wanted” sign anymore. It requires marketing and self-promotion in the places the next generation of workers “live” (schools, communities, online) and planting a seed about the opportunities available. Then, find ways to get them on your home turf so you can show them first hand there’s far more to this complex and evolving industry than a hard hat and a shovel.