Build a Strong Future in a Construction Trade The Buzz


The construction trades are becoming much more appealing as a shortage of skilled labor leads to more job opportunities at competitive wages.

"The image of the construction industry has suffered greatly at the hands of advertising," says Dennis Ryan. He works with a construction association.

"The first thing people see about construction workers is some guy outside working in the mud and the dirt, but that's a very minimal part. There's so much more, including opportunities for advancement and management," says Ryan.

Greg Beselaere is the manager of communications for a nonprofit group that promotes trades and technical careers to youth. He says his group works to erase the perception that only those with post-secondary education are successful.

"Kids think the trades are boring, dirty and low-paying. That's the general perception, when in fact it's the opposite," says Beselaere.

"Construction and craft training offer lifelong learning, continual development and unlimited growth opportunity, both personally and professionally," says Christine Bahar Hess. She works with Associated Builders and Contractors.

"All too often, however, skilled careers in a specialty craft are overlooked or are considered second-rate."

Beselaere says there's a great need to increase the number of apprenticeships and other training opportunities for young people.

"We need to work with schools and educators and make sure the opportunities are out there, get employers to participate and to not only work with young people, but with organizations as well," he says.

The construction trade covers a broad group of tradespeople, from carpenters, electricians, plumbers and millworkers to ironworkers, elevator mechanics, crane operators and boilermakers.

The lack of skilled workers is a problem across North America.

Construction is the second largest employer in the U.S., second only to government. The industry provides good, well-paying jobs with opportunity for unlimited growth potential, says Hess.

"Yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Labor, estimates that the construction industry needs to attract 240,000 workers each year to replace those who are retiring or leaving the industry -- as well as to allow for growth," she says.

"It's been a serious problem and contractors still consider it to be a serious problem," says David Mendes. He is the communications director of the American Subcontractors Association. "There's no question about it: the industry is putting a lot of effort into trying to promote construction as a career."

He says there's need throughout all areas of construction. "There's an abundance of opportunities at the crafts level and in management."

The greatest concern is for the future, when much of an aging workforce retires. Hess says the average age of a U.S. construction worker is 47.

However, Mendes and Ryan agree the need can vary between trades, locations and even individual work sites. "There are areas that are uneven," says Mendes.

"Specific areas of the country complain there are not enough people in certain trades at given times of the year," says Ryan.

Currently, the greatest concern, he says, is with larger projects that take considerable time to complete. For those projects, workers move through different phases. At one point, there may be a need for concrete finishers. When that work is complete, there could be a need for workers in the finishing trades, he says.

"But one might argue that even though there are shortages in given trades at given times, there are also people unemployed in other parts of the country. And there's not the incentive to pick up and move," he says.

In construction, you can expect to earn competitive wages. "There's no question there's good money to be made in the industry," says Ryan.

"Wages pretty much across the board are what I would call at least a living wage," says Mendes.

Most trades are apprenticeable. That means students can earn while they learn. In some cases, students can even start while still attending high school.

Apprenticeships include on-the-job training, work experience and technical training. They can last one to four years, depending on the trade.

As a first-year apprentice, you'll earn about half the wage of the journeyman instructor. This increases as you gain experience.

"Without the recognized trades qualifications, you're not going to work in the field," says Ryan.

There are choices in the construction trades industry beyond taking an apprenticeship. According to Hess, other avenues along the career path include craft training, an associate's degree in construction technology or a bachelor's degree in construction management.

"In short, construction is a powerful career choice for today's youth. It is a lifelong career path -- not just a job, but a path with unlimited opportunities for professional and financial growth and success," says Hess.

Links

Associated Builders and Contractors -- Education and Training Programs
Find out about apprenticeships and craft training as well as college and university programs

Made With the Trades
Apprenticeship information and an inside look at almost 30 different trades

National Center for Construction Education and Research
Helps develop standardized training programs