At first glance, the construction industry is booming. Unemployment is hovering at 5 percent and our industry is on track to grow at above-average rates with some experts putting the growth rate as high as 12 percent through 2026.
Despite the projected growth rates, there is a lack of interest from teens and Millennials in working in construction. The current lack of skilled workers is raising the price of labor. Soon, there simply won’t be enough warm bodies to fill seats, specifically those of heavy machinery.
The last generation grew up watching their fathers operate backhoes or asphalt rollers, sometimes from inside the cabin. Today’s youth don’t have the same opportunities to be enticed into the field. Some are dissuaded from pursuing a field that sported high levels of unemployment after the recession. Construction is also losing the curb appeal it once had in favor of liberal arts degrees and working in the tech sector. In response to the drought of talent and to demonstrate the appeal of a career in heavy machinery, our industry has come up with innovative strategies aimed at enticing new blood.
Kraemer Trucking and Excavating, based in Cold Springs, Minnesota, has turned to technology and invested $80,000 in mobile simulators of Caterpillar backhoes in local high schools. Using this approach, the company has had success in luring high schoolers into careers operating heavy machinery.
Another winning tactic is a strategic partnership between the Herdina Academy for the Construction Trades, based in Minnesota, and the Minnesota State Community and Technical College. This partnership offers classes geared to the trades to high schoolers. Those who complete the curriculum earn both high school and college credit, as well as being eligible for scholarships to local construction-related college programs.
A different approach was used at the annual construction showcase held at the Springfield, Missouri, Fairgrounds more than 2,700 students from 100 local high schools where given hands-on opportunities on heavy machinery. On April 28, 2019, our industry partnered with the American Cancer Society at Angel Stadium to give local youth a similar opportunity to operate construction machinery.
These techniques have already seen their share of recruits. With the growing need in California, it’s not a moment too soon.
By Suzanne Scheideker-Cook, Strategic Ventures