Are We Fighting the Construction Labor Shortage the Wrong Way?

May 18, 2015

There’s an empty desk across the aisle from me, one that’s been vacant for months save for a lonely, un-dog-eared book titled “Starting Your Career as a Contractor.”

It’s a perfect visual metaphor for the shortage of skilled technicians and operators in our industry—a gap that will only grow in the future. No one, we’re told, wants to get dirt under his or her nails. Construction isn’t glamorous.

Though it’s true that uber pitchman Mike Rowe is still out there talking about the glory of hard work and the satisfaction of learning and working a trade, one guy in the vast wasteland of cable TV can only do so much.

And there’s no emphasis on the trades in traditional (non-vocational) schools. Try to find a shop class in high school these days. There may be more high school teachers in jail for seducing students than there are shop teachers in existence.

What about fostering an awareness of the trades in college, perhaps as an alternative career, or as an acknowledgment that four years toward a “Communications” or other nebulous degree might not exactly light it up in the big-boy world?

Forget it. College professors would rather tell students how to tweet indignantly about the redistribution of wealth or talk about ice shelves falling from the sky.

Maybe we’re tackling the shortage the wrong way. Instead of talking about the nobility of the career and the number of open jobs, perhaps we should take a more practical, base approach.

I received a recent story pitch on behalf of D-Mar General Contracting and Development, Clearwater, Fla., with statistics that really made me think.

A bachelor’s degree costs an average of $127,000 over four years (and don’t forget crippling years of loan debt). A trade-school degree runs $33,000 and can be completed in just two years. D-Mar’s pitch also pointed to average annual wages of $46,600 in skilled construction labor with substantially higher salaries as experience grows, up to $94,000 for construction managers.

Time and money…time and money. Say it with me.

Then there’s this sure-to-be-unpopular fact: Doreen DiPolito, D-Mar’s owner and president, says, “Many students simply aren’t suited to the intense theoretical studies of a traditional bachelor’s program, and an affordable trade-school education can prepare them for an interesting, well-paying career.”

In an overly sensitive, hyper politically correct world, she’s saying that not everyone’s a superstar at everything, so there’s no harm in checking out the trades; they’re a good living. Bravo!

Cut out the feel-good emotional clutter of awarding everyone a trophy for participation and simply say A), college isn’t for everyone; and B), there are economic advantages—that’s right, money—in embracing the trades.

Talk common sense: time and money. Everything else is just noise.

About the Author

Frank Raczon

Raczon’s writing career spans nearly 25 years, including magazine publishing and public relations work with some of the industry’s major equipment manufacturers. He has won numerous awards in his career, including nods from the Construction Writers Association, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, and BtoB magazine. He is responsible for the magazine's Buying Files.