The labor shortage in the construction industry means companies have to be smarter and more creative with how they engage in-demand skilled workers. One tactic we recommend for all construction companies is to look towards younger generations — high school and college level students who may be interested in construction jobs.

Career Engagement at a Young Age Is Key

As early as freshman year, high school students are selecting the course calendar that will put them on path towards a career. While they may seem young, this is the point when construction companies should begin engaging the next generation of workers.

There are two audiences for your recruitment message. First is the career counselors that guide American students towards their post-graduation pathway. Your construction company should make contact with local school counselors to ensure they understand the need for skilled laborers, and the experience that would be necessary to get an entry level position. Putting your company on the radar of career counselors will help them make specific recommendations and connections for their students. Meeting with counselors in-person is the most effective way to introduce the diverse and highly skilled positions available, and may also change misconceptions counselors themselves may have around the construction industry. While this should be done at all area high schools, if possible, construction companies in larger cities can focus their efforts on schools that specialize in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The second audience is, of course, the students themselves. While the next generation is better informed, there are still stigmas that exist around careers in construction. Public advocacy and awareness is a big part in reversing these stereotypes, and this can start in high school or sooner. Seek opportunities to partner with local schools to arrange tours and open houses of your facilities.

It’s important to know what message you want to share with students. If there’s something many high school students are hearing, it’s that finding a job is no guarantee, even with a university degree. Those seeking blue collared jobs, however, are likely to face much less difficulty. The construction industry is one of the fastest growing markets in the country, and there is the job demand to match. Not only that, but the salary of a skilled tradesperson is often higher than an entry position you would get with a college or university degree. With a pitch involving more, better paying jobs — and a reduced stigma around what it means to be a skilled worker — more students will be attracted to come along for the ride.

Create Construction Apprenticeships

Once you’ve sparked an interest amongst students, it’s time to give them a taste of what it’s like to work in the construction industry. Apprenticeships are a perfect way to do this. During the Obama administration, the Department of Labor invested heavily in apprenticeship programs, and its benefits have already started paying off.

Apprenticeships hold great value for both construction company and apprentice. Students get paid, hands-on exposure, and your company gets to see an apprentice’s dedication and skill level before hiring them full-time. If your HR department is new to creating apprenticeship programs, the DOL has published an apprenticeship toolkit which guides employers through setting up a legally registered program. Make sure you advertise apprenticeship positions as you would a full-time job ad. As with those, an automated applicant tracking system will help.

Attract Diverse Students

The racial makeup of American high schools and colleges today is much different than what it was a few decades ago. For the first time in the country’s history, less than 50% of the high school student population is white. That means recruits for your construction company are going to come from all racial backgrounds. To be their number one choice, you have to show the younger generation that diversity is a key tenant of your company. Whether that means running specialized recruitment sessions for young women or having apprenticeship talks done by a person of color, demonstrating that you value diversity will attract students to your construction company — and help your business thrive, too.

The imminent retirement of your existing skilled workforce and growing job demand may seem scary, but attracting students to your construction company using the measures above is one proactive way to divert HR panic and grow your business at the same time.