The Skills Gap Facing the Building Industry


Ask any "old timer" in any field of endeavor, whether it's architecture or concrete finishing, operating a crane or installing clay tile roofing -- There's a big difference between "book learning" and on-the-job training. That's not to say that the current skills gap facing the building industry is because  we have seen a rise in the number of college students.

Or is it?

The facts are clear: Fewer young people, ages 19-24, are entering the construction trades today than in the year 2000. Part of it is attributable to the slow return to health of the construction industry over the past few years. But now, when workers are needed, they are hard to come by, according to those who are looking for qualified applicants. The old guard, those workers between the ages of 45 and 54, has increased; but that aging work force will be leaving the work force before long.

A New Generation Gap?

Why aren't Millennials, the new generation of workers, rushing in to fill the void in the construction industry and in other fields? There have been many reasons put forward -- from both sides. You know some of them: 

  • They're lazy; they don't have a proper work ethic.
  • The company is still doing it the "old way;" there has to be a better way.
  • Wages are too low; benefits are meager; there's no room for growth.
  • The work is boring; the boss won't listen to new ideas.
  • They don't know how to think; they don't follow directions.
  • The boss doesn't explain; he just gives orders!

Sound familiar? We thought it would. Gen X'ers seem to be facing the same difficulties with Millennials that aging  Baby Boomers faced with them. 

Defining Terms

Boomers are, of course, the generation born following WWII, the men and women that came of age in the heady, freedom-loving times of the 60's and 70's, and changed the world with their idealism and enthusiasm. Today, they're at or nearing retirement. Generation X, born between approximately 1965 and 1981, did not embrace any field as much as they fell in love with computers. The world changed again because of them.

And now we have Millennials; they entered the labor force on the wings of technology and they are committed to finding better, faster, easier ways of doing things. They also wanted to explore the world -- mostly by means of technology -- before making important decisions. First wave Millennials are now ready to settle into a career path, but refuse to settle for just a job. They also want to make a difference, both in their chosen field and in the world. In short, they want to do good not just do.

Exploring the Future

The "disconnect" is not new, but finding proper solutions will require adjustments and a willingness to "give a little" from both sides. There is no doubt that, in order to grow the industry and to maintain a healthy economy, construction trades will have to find, train and keep a growing work force satisfied. It is possible, and it can be exciting. We plan to explore some of the current wisdom as well as some innovative ideas in future posts on how to attract millennials to the building industry.  

Let's work on building the future together.


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Isaac Oswalt

Owner of 21 Handshake, a strategic marketing company, driven to grow relationship-driven businesses. Futurist in nature, Isaac displays a deep desire to preserve the human element in today's business. Trust being the ultimate currency, his clients appreciate that "new and stronger handshakes" is a success metric in their businesses.

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