Addressing the construction labor shortage
Construction is often thought of as an old boys game, with the majority of the positions in the industry held by men. This assumption isn’t incorrect — as of 2016, 71.4 percent of the construction industry was made up of men. Roughly 7.56 million men were working in the field during that year, and only 865,513 women. In spite of these large numbers, the construction industry as a whole is facing a growing labor shortage, which is why we need more women in construction. Why are more women considering careers in construction?
The Labor Shortage
When home construction bottomed out in 2011, no one was worried about a labor shortage. While the industry has recovered in the intervening years, there are fewer skilled laborers available to fill the now vacant job openings. When the recession struck the country, many skilled workers left construction behind entirely in favor of steadier work at lower pay. Right now, there are more than 143,000 vacant jobs across the country waiting for skilled workers to fill them.
The problem often starts in school. High school courses spend a lot of time steering students away from blue-collar careers like construction, instead focusing on college degrees and white-collar occupations. Shop classes are all but nonexistent, so students don’t learn about the rewards of working with their hands. And young women are gently nudged away from fields that are considered male-dominated, leaving a big gap in both skilled labor and demographics.
Women in the Workforce
In spite of what modern media might have you believe, women are an integral part of the construction workforce, while making up less than 20 percent of its number. In 1985, the majority of women in the industry were relegated to administrative roles, but today thousands of them play a major role in every stage of the construction. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 there were more than 47,000 female laborers, 32,000 painters, 8,900 inspectors, and 5,400 sheet metal workers.
With so many female construction workers making their mark in the industry, why do they only make up 9 percent of the workforce, and what can managers and supervisors do to encourage more women to consider a career in construction?
Women make up 47 percent of the collective workforce of America. Why, then, do they only make up 9 percent of the construction industry? What can managers and business owners do to turn this trend around?
One female contractor in Florida believes it needs to start with young girls and women in middle and high school. Construction careers aren’t ones that students are pushed toward, regardless of gender. Most high schools students graduate convinced that the only way for them to succeed is to work toward a four-year degree and a white-collar job.
Encouraging young women to choose careers in construction doesn’t just help them find fulfilling and lucrative jobs — it could also help repair the labor shortage that is currently threatening the field. Women could easily fill the 143,000 vacancies — and more — if schools stop focusing on four-year degrees as the only option for success.
Vocational schools also need to expand their reach, hosting career fairs and demonstrations just like four-year colleges do, to show students that going to college isn’t their only option. It’s hard for students to choose a career in construction when all they’ve been exposed to is information about choosing a degree in business or one in medicine.
Nearly half of the workers in the United States are female, but very few of them are selecting blue-collar careers like construction because, during their formative years, they have no support and encouragement. We need to start offering information about construction careers to students at a young age — as early as middle school in some cases — so these young men and women know there are more options out there for them.
If we can teach kids and young adults that construction is an excellent option for everyone, regardless of gender, we could eliminate the labor shortage in a matter of years. We need more women in construction to keep up with the growing demand, but that won’t happen until vocational colleges and construction firms start reaching out to their greatest untapped resource.
Written by: Megan Ray Nichols, BOSS Contributor
Megan is a STEM writer and blogger at https://schooledbyscience.com/