Why aren’t young people going into construction? There are literally thousands of jobs currently available, but few are stepping up to fill them, leaving the construction industry with a huge labor shortage. The latest reports show the construction industry will need to attract more than half a million workers in 2023, on top of the normal pace of hiring. Yet even prior to the pandemic, recruiting workers to take construction jobs was difficult.  


In 2018, the Department of Labor announced the unemployment rate declined to a 49-year low. In the fourth quarter of 2018, the jobless rate was 3.8%, the lowest since the fourth quarter of 1969. Historically low unemployment rates made it difficult to compete for new workers. For the construction industry, which was still feeling the impact of the 2008 recession where the number of construction workers hit an all-time high at 7.7 million before tumbling, this meant fighting an uphill battle to recruit and hire more workers. 

So why haven’t conditions improved, especially when the construction industry offers a variety of high-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree? Because even though the construction industry offers multiple career possibilities, it doesn’t attract younger workers like it did in the past. So why aren’t young people going into construction? 

College Trumps Trades 

There was a time when the option to pursue a trade after high school far outnumbered attending a four-year college. Then about 40 to 50 years ago, there was a shift in the country from an industrial to a post-industrial, service-based business economy, leading to increased higher education enrollment, according to Construction Dive. Attending college was also supported by the introduction of the GI Bill. Case in point, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 1969 there were 8 million students enrolled in postsecondary institutions and in 2019, 19.6 million were enrolled. 

Once a four-year degree became attainable for more Americans, attitudes about pursing trades started to shift. According to industry experts, the mark of success for many parents and their children has become the four-year degree and construction, plumbing, electrical work, masonry and other trades have become jobs for “someone else’s kid.” 

Once attitudes started to shift, so did federal funding. High schools emphasized math and reading over shop and other trades classes. Today, there is a huge funding gap from the federal government between college and career technical education, $120 billion compared to $20 billion. High school students are receiving more information and opportunities to go to a four-year institution instead of pursuing a trade. 

Don’t forget to take into account that trades were historically seen as male-dominated, which prompted more women to pursue higher education than a trade. Reports show that more women have enrolled in higher education than men since 2000. Neglecting to recruit women in construction has definitely impacted the number of high-paying construction jobs that have remained unfilled today. 

So what is the solution to why young people aren’t going into construction? Being proactive and communicative about all the different opportunities in construction. 

Show Young People the Benefits of Working in Construction

One answer to why young people aren’t going into construction could be because they don’t realize the benefits they could receive by going into a trade. There are a lot of benefits to pursuing a career in construction and these need to be highlighted and emphasized to young people while they’re in high school. 

Start Earning from Day One 

Construction careers start hands on. Even those who choose an apprenticeship get paid while learning instead of simply accruing debt. According to Construction Executive, the average hourly wage for a skilled laborer is $21.21, allowing young people to earn about $44,564 per year. And construction employment offers several opportunities to advance, building upon that initial salary year after year. 

What Construction Workers Earn 

The construction industry offers several high-paying positions that only require a high school diploma or the equivalent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction employees can earn more than $45,000 per year working in a number of specialties. 

Occupation  Entry-Level Education  2021 Median Pay 
Boilermaker  High School Diploma or Equivalent  $64,290 
Carpenters  High School Diploma or Equivalent  $48,260 
Construction and Building Inspectors  High School Diploma or Equivalent  $61,640 
Construction Equipment Operators  High School Diploma or Equivalent  $48,290 
Electrician  High School Diploma or Equivalent  $60,040 
Glaziers  High School Diploma or Equivalent  $47,180 
Hazardous Materials Removal   High School Diploma or Equivalent  $46,300 
Ironworkers  High School Diploma or Equivalent  $57,160 
Plumbers, Pipefitters and Steamfitters  High School Diploma or Equivalent  $59,880 
Sheet Metal Workers  High School Diploma or Equivalent  $53,440 
Solar Photovoltaic Installers  High School Diploma or Equivalent  $47,670 


Illustrate the Variety 

The industry offers a variety of entry-level career pathway options for young people in construction. Areas of construction for entry-level work include: carpentry, general contractor, landscape, painting, commercial construction, flooring and tile, masonry and roofing. And once workers start learning skills, the options are endless. Construction jobs range from laborer to CFO and owner. Skilled jobs from an apprenticeship or community college include: 

  • Journeyperson 
  • Master Craftsman 
  • Crew Leader 
  • Foreman 
  • Administration 
  • Tech Support 
  • Draftsperson 
  • Estimator 
  • Project Manager 
  • Safety 
  • Senior Management 
  • Vice President 

Get Out in the Community 

Sharing the opportunities available for young people in construction requires going to them. Participating in school fairs is a good first step, but there are other, more hands-on avenues you can take. Let local high schools know your company is available as a field trip location. Giving students a close-up view of what a job site is really like will reveal all the complexities of construction work. You can also offer hands-on experience by inviting students to help build special projects, under supervision. Or develop a mentorship program where high school students can come work under the supervision of crew members during school breaks. 

Stop wondering why young people aren’t going into construction and take steps to show them just what they could receive by pursuing a trade: less debt, earning from day one, lots of variey and many jobs that pay above $45,000 a year with just a high school diploma. 

Arcoro can help you figure out how to attract and hire more workers. Our solutions, like our Applicant Tracking System and Onboarding, make it easy to post more job listings that include your company brand and message. Being smarter about how your hire and onboard new employees can make a huge difference when competing for workers in 2023.  

Schedule a free HR assessment to learn more.  

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