It’s graduation season and with thousands of new workers entering the job market, could this year’s grads fill construction’s current labor needs?  

Labor shortages in construction have been making headlines for years. Filling positions has been difficult as Baby Boomers continue to retire in droves – in part thanks to the pandemic – and high school graduates pursued college instead of trades. But that could be changing.  


Faced with soaring inflation and stagnant wages, more Gen Z members are choosing to forgo the college route, and the staggering debt that comes with it. 

According to an article in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the number of students enrolled in vocational-focused community colleges rose 16% last year to its highest level since 2018, when the data was first tracked. Students studying construction trades rose 23% during that time, while those in programs covering HVAC and vehicle maintenance and repair increased 7%. 

So why has this generation finally started taking a serious look at the trade industry when their Millennial predecessors weren’t as interested? 

Why Now? 

Born in the 2000s, Gen Z witnessed war, terrorism, uncertainty and recession whereas Millennials were born in a time of relative peace and prosperity. They lived through the isolation of the pandemic and may not necessarily expect the group experience of higher education.  

Unlike Millennials, Gen Z members don’t necessarily see college as a good financial investment. They are witnessing Millennials struggle to pay off student debt while trying to buy a home and start families. Pursuing a trade, however, offers job security and a much lower education cost. Careers in the trade also align with Gen Z’s workplace experiences, which include globalization, rapidly advancing technology, infinite information, diversity and everything moving at an accelerated pace, according to Forbes 

Rising Pay 

Trade professions are looking more like viable career options for Gen Z in part thanks to rising pay. According to the WSJ, the median pay for new construction hires rose 5.1% to $48,089 last year. By contrast, new hires in professional services earned an annual $39,520, up 2.7% from 2022. What’s more, trade schools don’t come with the same amount of debt that a four-year university does. 

The average cost of attending a public, four-year university is about $10,700 per year totaling $42,800 and that doesn’t include housing. In contrast, a trade school costs about $5,000 per year and only requires 18 to 24 months to complete, totaling $7,500 to $10,000. Trades are providing Gen Z with the opportunity to spend less on an education and get to work faster, providing a quick ramp-up to great ROI. 

Trade Apprenticeships 

Apprenticeships help employers develop high-quality career paths for their workers, which provides the job security Gen Z is craving. Registered Apprenticeships involve paid work experience, progressive wage increases, classroom instruction and portable, nationally recognized credentials. They’re also a great way for Gen Z to work, and start earning money, while receiving hands-on experience. Plus, many apprenticeships turn into full time work. According to the Department of Labor, 92% of apprentices who complete their program retain employment and go on to earn an average annual salary of $72,000. 

Advanced Technologies 

Construction’s advanced technology aligns with Gen Z’s desire to work on interesting projects while using the most updated equipment. According to McKinsey & Company, an estimated $50 billion was invested in architecture, engineering and construction between 2020-2022, 85% higher than in recent years. Tech investments have helped with construction design, financing, planning and maintenance. Today’s construction workers need to be familiar with virtual design, BIM (building information modeling), augmented reality, virtual reality, drones, construction management software and mobile apps – innovative skills that appeal to the digitally forward Gen Z.  

How Do You Get Gen Z to Look Your Way? 

There’s a lot of competition to attract workers, especially Gen Z, but reaching them before they graduate is a great way to develop a pipeline of future talent. Here are a few ideas.  

  • Participate in school career fairs. Let local high schools know your company is available as a field trip location. 
  • Give students a close-up view of what a job site is really like, revealing the complexities of 21st century construction work.  
  • Offer hands-on experience by inviting students to help build special projects, under supervision. Develop a mentorship program where high school students can come work under the supervision of crew members during school breaks. 

For Gen Zer’s who have already graduated, focus your recruitment strategies to optimally target this generation. 

  • Make sure your hiring process is mobile-friendly. Gen Z workers certainly don’t have the desire to fill out paper or clunky online forms. Keep your application process mobile-friendly, straightforward and fast. 
  • Post job openings on a variety of social channels. Gen Z workers aren’t spending their time on Facebook or Twitter. As of 2020, Snap Chat was the most popular with TikTok and YouTube coming in second and third respectively. 
  • Emphasize on your job openings about development opportunities and possibilities for succession plans. 
  • Partner with community or technical colleges to develop a registered apprenticeship program. Build relationships with these institutions and open your business to instructors and students. 

Want to learn more about Gen Z and how to attract these up-and-coming workers? Check out these blogs: