Learning From the Best

March 5, 2015

Ever since the housing industry started making its very tentative way back after the end of the Great Recession, there’s been a great deal of hand-wringing about the dearth of young people joining its ranks. And for good reason. Statistics on the entire population of home builders are hard to come by, but based on the numbers of NAHB members, the median age of builders is still going up. More than half of the association’s builder members in 2013 (the most recent year for which data is available) were 55 years of age or older. And only 19 percent of the remaining half were younger than 45 years old.

As we try to get back to a normal number of annual starts (generally accepted to be around 1.3 million, the average number of starts in the years 2000 through 2003), from our total of 1.06 million at the end of 2014, we’re going to need more hands on deck. The situation varies depending on where you are, but in some areas of the country, finding and hiring qualified staff can be very difficult. One high-end contractor in Denver likened his search to “looking for a unicorn or a jackalope.” 

That may be a bit of an overstatement, but it’s certainly true that during the downturn it seemed to many young people to be less than a stellar idea to go into home building. It appears that things are changing, however. There are opportunities now at all points on the home building employment spectrum from laborers to civil engineers to entrepreneurs starting their own companies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in its occupational outlook published last year, projected an increase of 16 percent from 2012 to 2022 in construction manager jobs alone, a much larger bump than the average for all other occupations.

This shift in the tide is good news and is being borne out by the entries to our annual Professional Builder 40 Under 40 awards program. Each year since starting the program in 2011, we’ve received more and more nominations and the entrants become more and more accomplished. This year, one nominee co-founded a company at the age of 30 that six years later generates $65 million a year in sales; another took over purchasing at age 23 for a division building more than 1,000 homes a year; and yet another helped raise $6 million to build 180 homes for survivors of the 2011 Joplin tornado. 

While I don’t think we can say yet that young people are flocking to the industry, it’s clear that some very smart ones think it’s a good place to be. This year, we are inviting our award winners (and any and all young industry leaders) to attend our second Under 40 Executive Summit on June 22 and 23 in San Diego for an exchange of ideas, presentations by industry experts, and networking. Having read a bit about our award winners, I’m not certain who will be the teachers and who will be the students, but I think there’s a good chance we will all learn something.

editorial director

Denise Dersin, editorial director of Professional Builder, Custom Builder, PRODUCTS, NKBA Innovation+Inspiration, and co-editor of Multifamily Design+Construction, has been in publishing as an editor and writer for 30 years and has worked in the housing industry for much of that time.


Related Categories