This story was originally published in Builder.
A little over three-and-a-half million kids are among the graduates of America's public and private high schools in 2018, and it's expected that just over 3 million will enroll in degree-granting post-high school institutions in the Fall, according to the Institute of Education Sciences' National Center for Education Statistics.
Not everybody graduates.
Of those 3.1 million expected to enroll in post-secondary programs, some 1.65 million women, and about 1.05 million men may go on to attain either associate's or bachelor's degrees.
So, a half-million young people start some form of college after high school and don't complete a degree program, and another half-milion high school graduates never even enroll in a degree-granting institution after getting their high school diploma.
That's a million young American adults a year—ages somewhere between 18 and 22—who don't fall into the "everybody's going to college to get better paying white collar jobs" category you hear as a refrain so often to explain why construction is alarmingly short on skilled workers.
Sometimes, things are not what they seem to be. And sometimes, it takes recognition that we've been operating under false assumptions before we can act with the focus and energy to begin resolving a crisis.
Here are six myths and fallacies that we believe are holding back the residential building and business community from taking the necessary steps to invest in people, processes, and technology that will alleviate the current—and worsening—construction capacity crisis.
Myth & Fallacy 1
Construction's labor capacity challenge is a post-Great Recession issue, reflecting a "new generation" of young people who are all college-bound and set on white collar career paths. If that were true, the average age of construction workers would not be folks in their mid-50s. Our current lack of skilled people in the building trades goes back at least 30 years, to when employers began choosing less and less expensive laborers to complete construction tasks, and had a flow of undocumented immigrant workers to draw on to expand capacity and reduce costs.
Myth & Fallacy 2
Construction's labor shortages can only be solved by attracting young men. As building sage and seer George Casey notes here, while 47 percent of the active U.S. labor force consists of women, and 29 percent of manufacturing jobs are held by females, just 4 percent of construction and trade labor jobs are currently being done by women. In the U.S., we're woefully behind more progressed, more productive, and more profitable enterprises in other nations who've recognized women are essential to a healthy, high-capacity construction workforce.
Myth & Fallacy 3
Automation and technology will eliminate the need for skilled construction artisans. This is a long-held belief that's never proven to be true. Greater capacity and productivity that results from automation, robotics, machine learning, and other tech-enabled applications can boost production, reduce costs, and, ultimately, expand the addressable universe of participants in the housing market, requiring more—not fewer—people who are skilled in how to build homes that are durable, functional, sustainable, aesthetically compelling, and whose total cost of ownership rewards ownership itself.
Myth & Fallacy 4
Construction's labor shortage is just like the capacity constraints impacting U.S. trucking, quick serve restaurants, farming, and other manufacturing industry sectors. Here, a CNBC report by correspondent Jaden Urbi notes that America needs 50,000 truck drivers ASAP, or else. At risk Urbi writes, is a bustling retail economy that may go off the rails if we don't have ways to ship merchandise efficiently around the nation. The difference is this. You can train a truck driver in two weeks. It takes many months--more like years--to properly educate and train and give experience to a worker who needs to understand how to make a building enclosure and install systems in such a way as to provide true well-being, safety, and the ability to prosper for a multiple generations of residents.
Myth & Fallacy 5
Construction needs as many laborers now to achieve a norm in housing starts and completions as it did during the peak years of the middle part of the last decade. Fact is, construction's employment and business community needs to invest in productivity and process—including talented people—in addition to factory capability, new products that integrate, inter-operate, and assemble at higher quality and efficiency rate.
Myth & Fallacy 6
Construction's capacity constraint is a training issue. Maybe this is partly so. Still, we think the bigger issue is one of attraction. More like recruitment. Marketing.
What if construction industry stakeholders were to look at the current challenge as the U.S. Army did in the post-draft, all-volunteer military era after 1971? After floundering around with slogans and advertising for almost a decade, and falling 16,000 enlistees short of its recruitment goals in 1979, the Army—thanks to N.W. Ayer copywriter Earl Carter—unveiled a new message that hit home with men and women the U.S. Army wanted to operate the high-tech systems and sophisticated tactical tools of the day. The message was this: "Be all you can be." After a vaunted Super Bowl advertising debut, the Army hit its recruitment goal, regularly and with flying colors.
Today's challenge for builders and the businesses built on their backs is this simple but difficult non-negotiable: Marketing to Generation Z.
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