Communities Build Local Training Programs, Combat Construction Labor Shortage
When Cassandra Puletapuai was a young girl, her favorite TV show was "Home Improvement." She remembers Heidi, the show’s “tool girl” character. Puletapuai always wanted to build things, and as an adult, she enrolled in a technical program at Kansas Community College. She learned the trade of carpentry, and plans to start her own business after she finishes the program.
“I’m ready to go and build buildings,” Puletapuai said. “I know I would probably start with remodeling and then get into new construction.”
Students like Puletapuai in vocational trade programs could be the solution to the construction labor shortage in regional markets across the U.S. Construction managers are feeling pressure to hire more skilled workers in a short period of time, and they are turning to regionally focused training programs to strengthen the workforce.
“The difficulty in finding skilled labor is the No. 1 problem faced by middle-market firms,” RSM Chief Economist Joe Brusuelas said. “Training should be done at the state and local levels in conjunction with junior colleges and local apprenticeship programs.”
The skills gap has become problematic throughout the construction industry as millennials and Gen Z enter the workforce. From 2014 to 2024, the number of young people in the construction workforce is expected to increase by 3.2 million, according to a report from Urban Land Institute. Meanwhile, those expected to retire during the same time period will increase by 9.4 million.
The resulting 6.2 million-worker deficit will further strain the construction industry. Integrating training programs into the education system early on could help attract more young workers like Puletapuai and prepare them for a career in construction.
These training programs are most effective when they focus on a specific local market. At Autry Technology Center in Enid, Oklahoma, construction technology programs customize the curriculum to align with local labor needs. Autry’s advisory board comprises industry leaders who know the local market and understand where the skill demand is highest.
"They’ll tell me, 'We need more framers. We need more trim people.' Then I focus the program in that direction a little bit," Autry Construction Technology instructor Jeff Clark told ConstructionDive. "Then they help me, because I go back to them and say, 'I have 20 students graduating this year. I need some jobs,' and instantly they’ll have jobs."
These regional programs benefit the local economy by training the next generation of skilled workers, producing a stronger workforce and setting students up with jobs postgraduation. While these training programs have helped several employers gain qualified workers, other companies are investing in training employees internally. Across districts, an increasing number of employers have turned to internal training and development skills programs to address the shortage in construction, according to the Federal Reserve.
“Internships can’t provide what these construction companies need, which is long-term, skilled labor,” RSM partner Brandon Maves said. “Traditionally, unions held the advantage on apprenticeship programs, but many employers are starting their own internal apprenticeship programs to develop their workforces, often in conjunction with local trade associations.”
While internal training has benefited several local economies, it is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. For these programs to continue growing the workforce, economists are pushing for more support and funding from state and local governments.
“Companies do what they can to cope, but it will take a concerted effort by industry and government entities to address the broader issues that are often said to be contributing to labor shortages,” Brusuelas said.
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