flexiblefullpage - default
Currently Reading

A Career in Construction? The Future of Traditional Skilled Labor

billboard - default
Labor + Trade Relations

A Career in Construction? The Future of Traditional Skilled Labor

Refilling the skilled construction labor pool requires a rethink about how we treat workers

October 4, 2021
Kid watching construction
The future of traditional skilled labor is in peril unless we make a very public plea to change minds and policies.
This article first appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of Pro Builder.

They tore down an elementary school in my neighborhood this summer, replaced by a shiny, new (and far larger) school behind it. Since the old school occupied a busy corner, the entire demolition process was on full display for several weeks.

Driving by one day, I spotted a kid who had stopped to watch workers move the rubble. As a construction geek since childhood, I could relate to the allure of bulldozers, front-end loaders, and excavators in action.

But as a journalist who has written or edited countless articles about construction’s chronic skilled labor shortage—at last count, a deficit of 321,000 workers—I also wondered if that kid’s fascination at 10 years old might lead to a career in the trades as an adult.


Sadly, it probably won’t … at least if the 50-plus comments we received about “Inside Construction’s Skilled Labor Shortage,” a recent HorizonTV segment in which I interviewed the National Association of Home Builders’ chief economist Robert Dietz and Home Builders Institute president Ed Brady, are any indication.

I’ll spare you the colorful language and boil down the general sentiment to this: The pay, benefits, and job security is lousy; apprentices start in the deep end without much training or mentorship; working conditions are physically demanding, mentally stressful, and occasionally dangerous; and those at the top aren’t listening, watching, or prone to change … despite being desperate for labor.

“I was a carpenter for 15 years. I noticed then there was a wage shortage. The labor shortage followed that,” wrote one viewer. “Nobody wants to become a carpenter when you’re only getting 20 bucks an hour and no benefits.”

Many Voices Needed to Boost Construction Careers

In the video, Dietz and Brady acknowledge that housing lags behind other industries in terms of compensation—especially benefits—while recent Pro Builder data indicate builders are increasingly using better pay, benefits, and working conditions to try to reduce turnover and attract new workers.

But getting this kid and others to work in our industry will, I think, require a national, high-profile, public-private campaign among all stakeholders to encourage and enable careers in construction as a viable—even preferred—alternative to college-for-all and tech-focused policies and financial incentives that drowned high school and adult vocational training in their wake. NAHB’s Careers in Construction toolkit is a good start, but only one of many voices needed.

That, or we stop and watch from the sidelines as the skilled labor pool continues to drain away ... and then let the robots take over.

leaderboard2 - default
Written By
Editorial Director

Rich Binsacca is editorial director of Pro Builder Media, Custom Builder, and PRODUCTS. He has reported and written about all aspects of the housing industry since 1987 and most recently was editor-in-chief of Pro Builder Media. rbinsacca@sgcmail.com


boombox1 -
native1 - default
halfpage2 -

More in Category

Delaware-based Schell Brothers, our 2023 Builder of the Year, brings a refreshing approach to delivering homes and measuring success with an overriding mission of happiness

NAHB Chairman's Message: In a challenging business environment for home builders, and with higher housing costs for families, the National Association of Home Builders is working to help home builders better meet the nation's housing needs

Sure there are challenges, but overall, Pro Builder's annual Housing Forecast Survey finds home builders are optimistic about the coming year

native2 - default
halfpage1 -

Create an account

By creating an account, you agree to Pro Builder's terms of service and privacy policy.

Daily Feed Newsletter

Get Pro Builder in your inbox

Each day, Pro Builder's editors assemble the latest breaking industry news, hottest trends, and most relevant research, delivered to your inbox.

Save the stories you care about

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet lorem ipsum dolor sit amet lorem ipsum dolor sit amet.

The bookmark icon allows you to save any story to your account to read it later
Tap it once to save, and tap it again to unsave

It looks like you’re using an ad-blocker!

Pro Builder is an advertisting supported site and we noticed you have ad-blocking enabled in your browser. There are two ways you can keep reading:

Disable your ad-blocker
Disable now
Subscribe to Pro Builder
Already a member? Sign in
Become a Member

Subscribe to Pro Builder for unlimited access

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.