The secret to solving the labor shortage in construction is actually pretty simple: find workers. Of course, that is easier said than done for a number of reasons that we will explore here in this blog. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons is that for the past several decades parents have strongly encouraged their children to attend college and ignore a career in the trades. But is this all beginning to change? Let’s take a look at the numbers.
What Do Parents Really Want Today?
Journey back with me for a minute more than a decade. A 2011 Pew Research Center poll found among parents of a child ages 17 or younger, 94% say they expect their child (or children) to attend college. About three-quarters (77%) of those surveyed agreed that it is necessary for a woman to have a college education to get ahead in life; 68% said the same about men.
This was right about the time college enrollment was at its highest. According to Education Data Initiative, enrollment peaked in 2010 at 21.02 million. Since 2010, enrollment has declined 9.8%. The number of total enrolled post-secondary students declined by 4.9% from 2019 to 2021, the most significant rate of decline in enrollment since 1951.
College enrollment totaled 15.44 million undergraduate students nationwide in fall 2021, a 21% decline year-over-year. Certainly, there are pros and cons to this trend that could be explored in greater depth, but let’s focus on one question for right now: Are parents driving this trend?
Jump forward to 2021. According to the Family Voices study, which is a survey of U.S. parents conducted by Carnegie Corp., and Gallup, 46% of parents say even if there were no barriers to their child earning a bachelor’s degree, they would prefer another postsecondary option.
What parents want varies. Some want children to go to community college or develop a specific career path such as paralegal or dental hygienist. Parents are twice as likely to say they want their child to complete a noncollege-based skills training program rather than enroll in a community college. Other parents simply prefer their child to pursue a path that does not involve any education such as starting a business, doing volunteer work, joining the military, securing a job right out of high school, or taking time off.
How Can Construction Tap into This?
While the trend toward college is changing, construction needs to tap into this opportunity—and they need to do it quickly before it loses potential workers to other industries.
The ABC (Associated Builders and Contractors) recognizes this. On January 18, the organization testified before the U.S. House Committee on Education and The Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.
Brandon Mabile, strategic development manager for Performance Contractors Inc., Baton Rouge, La., testified that a 2023 survey of ABC members indicated 79% of contractors have targeted career outreach to high school students, high school graduates, and individuals with GED diplomas, and 65% have targeted programs for community college students and graduates.
The organization went on to urge Congress to consider expanding career pathways that are vital to addressing the construction workforce shortage the industry currently faces.
This is certainly a step in the right direction, but much more still needs to be done to fill the gap. We need to reach all generations in order to encourage them that a career in construction is a good path to consider. How will you do that today?
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