Michigan, like the rest of the United States, will be facing a labor shortage in the construction industry with the retirement of baby boomers. "The average age for an apprentice in the skilled trades is 27. That's already an eyebrow raiser," Brindley Byrd, C.A.P.S., C.G.R., executive director of the Capital Area Construction Council (CACC), said.
"Most apprenticeship programs are four years long. You have qualified individuals that are beyond entry level that are in their early 30s. That seems a little bit late. And, the average age of the construction worker across the country is 48 pushing 49. It's in flux. It's in flux because as the construction market cools down, those that are the first to go are usually the youngest.
"So, what's going to happen as a result of the construction market slowdown is that the average age is going to increase, because the older workers are going to stay. This is going to be a national trend and the same will apply here in Michigan.
"What will be the result of this? In 18 months the new average age of the construction worker will be higher.
"So, what we have is an opportunity and a challenge. We have an opportunity to create some excitement in the minds of young people and then we have a challenge to make our existing workforce help us do that."
The CACC is a unified assembly of commercial, road, residential, and trades contractors; educators; suppliers; and construction trade associations representing both union and non-union workers focused on promoting a positive image of the construction industry.
By supporting area education programs, increasing industry training and creating apprenticeship opportunities, the organization is striving to safeguard the existence of a skilled construction workforce today and in the years to come. CACC is part of Capital Area Michigan Works!, which is the employment services agency for Ingham County, Eaton County, Clinton County, and Livingston County. The CACC was funded by a startup grant from the state of Michigan. CACC is a standalone unit of government that is heavily funded by state tax dollars.
The CACC focuses its efforts in a four-county area around Lansing, which includes Ingham County, Eaton County, Clinton County, and Livingston County. "But, because we are located in Lansing, I am constantly speaking with many statewide associations that are located here, which makes it easy for me to reach out across the state," Byrd said.
"We have supported productivity training, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design training, and leadership training in order to provide some soft skills that project managers and superintendents will need to get their construction teams to work more closely.
"We are telling older workers that the industry is not the same as it was five years ago. Training is as important to older workers as it is to younger workers. We're telling older workers that there aren't going to be as many workers in your crews next year as there are right now. And, because of the way the economy is moving and the construction market is moving, you're not going to get those workers back. So, you as an older worker need to figure out the skills and techniques that you need and embrace technology that's coming in order to make yourself more productive. This is the way that we are selling the productivity training that we are providing."
Byrd said that retaining older workers in the construction industry in Michigan doesn't appear to be an issue. Many workers want to continue working until they can't work anymore, and the industry wants to keep them because younger people are not necessarily interested in a construction career.
"By the time they get older, they position themselves in a company so that they are not doing heavy, manual labor. So, I really don't have conversations about retirement," Byrd said.