Selectwood Perspectives




According to the Associated General Contractors of America, 70% of construction companies are having trouble finding qualified workers. “Over the last four years, we’ve seen rising rates of open jobs,” said Robert Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Homebuilders.

During the Great Recession that began in 2008, more than 1.5 million residential construction workers left the industry. Some changed careers; others simply retired. Many immigrant workers went home and never came back. Today, 10 years later, the industry has recovered fewer than half of those jobs. And by one estimate, for every skilled worker entering the workforce, there are five who retire.

“If we don’t get workers, housing costs are ultimately going to be even higher,” Dietz said, “and that’s going to price out workers from being able to own their own homes.”

We can’t blame it all on the recession, though. In a recent report, the Washington State Auditor found that good jobs in the skilled trades are going begging because students are being almost universally steered to bachelor’s degrees.

“There is an emphasis on the four-year university track,” said Chris Cortines, who co-authored the report. It’s an entrenched belief – promulgated by universities, guidance counselors, parents, peers and the media – that without that four-year university degree a child will have no future. Yet according to the National Student Clearinghouse, 30% of high school grads who go to t not right for everyone. Sadly, there are still negative perceptions that “Vo-Tec” is for kids who are dumb, poor or lazy. It’s tough enough to be an adolescent these days without those labels being hung around one’s neck. It’s easier to jump on the college-bound bandwagon. What can be done to get more workers? Here are three ideas:

Early Awareness. The Washington State Auditor recently recommended that career guidance – including choices that require less than four years in college – start as soon as the seventh grade (even earlier, in our opinion). Schools and especially parents will need to buy into this, but if we can just let kids know they have choices, and that they’ll be supported in those choices, it will make the high school experience a lot less stressful (and possibly safer) for everyone involved.

Marketing. We need to make the trades “sexy”; dump the stereotype of the overweight plumber with a butt-crack problem and present skill laborers as role models. The next time you see a TV ad recruiting for our armed forces, listen to what they are saying to make the military appealing to young people: you’ll have an adventure; you’ll learn a marketable skill; you’ll use technology; you’ll work side-by-side with some really great people. We need to promote the trades in the same way. Building a house should be cool!

Financing. Tennessee has made its technical colleges free. We think NH should do the same. Agree? Disagree? Have other ideas to encourage young people to enter the trades?