Sutton: Tide Turns on Construction Labor Trends

April 30, 2024
New data indicates more young people participating in construction education.

The labor shortage has ranked high on construction’s list of concerns for more than a decade. As with other economic trends, we knew it was coming. The data forecast a decline in the number of young workers available to fill the spots that would open as the Baby Boom generation began to retire.

Count it as another Covid curveball, however, when workers left during that stretch of shutdowns and hunkering in. Many did not return. Add to that the demand for workers as infrastructure and other construction spending grows.

The needle on the gauge indicating trade labor trends may be moving in the other direction, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal (link requires registration). In an April 1 article, the Journal headline writers suggested that Generation Z could be called the “Toolbelt Generation.”

Mike Rowe picked up the moniker and ran with it. Rowe has been an articulate and outspoken proponent of vocational education, and he has been quick to call attention to the opportunities in the trades. Rowe was asked to respond to the Journal report citing 2022 statistics from the National Student Clearinghouse that showed an increase of 23% for students studying construction jobs. He told “One Nation with Brian Kilmeade” he was optimistic about the report, but that he’s “not ready for the victory lap.”

This data from 2022 is encouraging, and if it is indeed indicative of a trend, construction and other trade jobs may be filled more quickly than thought.

Crew Collaborative, a grass-roots, trade-focused nonprofit, is working to ensure that the trend becomes a solution. Since its inception in 2020, and following a successful effort at Conexpo 2023, Crew has brought together a growing number of professionals working toward educating and encouraging parents, teachers, and students. The group is putting literal boots on the ground to promote the trades and construction careers, as Harlee Hewitt reports in "Cultivating the Next Construction Generation." 

Public sentiment is leaning our way. It’s taken years, but the financial benefits and sense of accomplishment available in the construction sector are finally drawing some serious attention. The work is not finished, but the tide may be turning.

About the Author

Rod Sutton

Sutton has served as the editorial lead of Construction Equipment magazine and since 2001. 

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