What would you imagine to be the average age of construction workers? Is it lower or higher than the entire American work force? The average age of construction workers is 41, the same as the overall labor force. Is this surprising? So much of construction is very physical and sometimes back breaking work. Home building is on the upswing since the housing bubble burst about 10 years ago. This has meant more unfilled jobs. Since the low point of employment after the Great Recession almost 714,600 more jobs have opened. This has home builders feeling the pinch of the labor shortage.
41 years of age is nationwide. A map of the age trends in the construction industry shows some states have a median age closer to 50 than 40. Also, other states, in the middle of the country like South Dakota and Wyoming, have a median age closer to the mid-30s age group. The eastern and northern parts of the United States are seeing the median age on the rise. This shows the need to recruit the younger age groups into the construction industry. But, how?
Attracting New Workers – Training
The industry could invest in more vocational training curriculum in high schools. How many high schools still have Shop Class? Science, math, and literature are still important, but how many students are going into those fields after school? Some would say that education has been warped into molding students to pass tests instead of gaining skills. However, that is a totally different discussion for a different day.
Some in the construction industry have already taken steps to filling the labor shortage. The Colorado Homebuilding Academy is a new avenue for people of all ages to get hands-on training specific to home building. It is supported locally by builders who want to create growth in the labor force. Other states should take this example and run with it. States like Vermont, where the median age of construction workers is 47, should feel a sense of urgency to attract new workers to the field.
Attracting New Workers – Wages
Another way that may make the construction industry more attractive is the mandate prevailing wage rates that’s part of President Trump’s infrastructure proposal. The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 states that for public works projects workers must be paid local prevailing wages. In other words, if it’s a federally funded project, workers should get the prevailing wage for that county. Republicans included this section to get Democrats on board, however Republicans also worry that guaranteeing prevailing wages will increase the cost of projects.
What this means for workers is that working on federally funded projects could get them a better paycheck. Good for workers and a pain in the side for some contractors. So much that about 28 states have enacted right-to-work legislation which prevents non-union workers having to pay unions dues on union projects. Kentucky passed a bill that eliminates contractors having to pay prevailing wages on state funded projects. It’s a push and pull in both directions. Workers want higher wages while contractors and investors keep looking at the bottom line.
The median age of construction workers in the United States is the same as the rest of the labor force. But, the rest of the labor force isn’t in a labor shortage. Colorado has the right idea with the Colorado Homebuilding Academy to attract more workers. However, constant back and forth on wages in politics is bound to push new workers away. Trump’s inclusion of prevailing wages as part of his infrastructure proposal is a right step towards attracting workers to federal and public works projects. But, right there at the state level, more than half of states have measures to ensure workers will not get prevailing wages. Contractors and investors will have to decide eventually between attracting new, qualified workers in some shape or form and holding onto their purse strings until the labor shortage is so significant their projects never make it off the ground.