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Is Construction Bad for Gen Z?

Hi, I'm Christi's teammate Catherine! If we haven't met, I've been on the ALTA team since January, and I often help out with these blog posts.

Our workforce in the construction industry is changing rapidly.

Generation Z is entering the workforce as Baby Boomers and some Gen X'ers are leaving it. But, Gen Z isn't entering the workforce as fast as Baby Boomers are leaving, which leads to a really noticeable brain drain on expertise and skilled labor, and a very imminent staffing crisis.

There are, of course, multiple factors that are contributing to this, but one large factor is the construction industry isn't appealing to younger workers, and I've got an anecdote (unfortunately) to prove it.

When I was in high school (for reference, I'm a young millennial, right on the cusp of Gen Z), we had Advisory once a month where we'd hear about post-high school options and what steps were needed to achieve them. I distinctly remember the advisor talking down about skilled labor and trade careers. We were basically told "you can go to a 4 year college, which is the Good option, or you can go into the trades, which is the Bad option." Did my advisor say that word-for-word? No, of course not. But it was heavily, heavily implied.

And just like that, the damage is done. How many of my peers went on to be foremen or machine operators or electricians or mechanics? I'd wager not many (although I didn't go to my recent high school reunion, so I guess I don't know for sure!).

How can the construction industry - which is, clearly, NOT a bad option! - look appealing to new talent when that sentiment is being fed to the next generation of the workforce? I've got a couple ideas:

1. Make the industry visible and attractive to younger folks currently in school - as early as possible.

Engage the next gen early, definitely before they graduate from high school. Middle school students can be enticed with workshops and exhibits, perhaps at a local museum, where they build their own lemonade stand, or explore other hands-on activities that tie their everyday experiences to the construction industry. Help them have fun working with their hands, and picture themselves doing that as a career later.

2. Show them the money!

When they get to high school, show them the money. Millennials and Gen Zs have grown up in very uncertain economic times; financial stability is a big priority for them, because in their minds, financial difficulties are a virtual guarantee for their adult lives. Highlight how they can make money in construction, and show some successful career paths so they can envision both growth and variety if they enter the construction field. High schools (especially alternative high schools!) will often have career fairs, so you can volunteer to have a booth at these events to put yourself in front of them.

3. Get them on site.

Try hosting one-day job shadowing events for local students. Tour sites, shake hands with all members of the crew and explain what they do, and end the day with an interview, and even an offer if it looks promising!

Drop a comment below if you have any other ideas or examples of how you've gotten your company, and the construction industry writ large, in front of students and engaged them. This is a problem the industry needs to face head-on!

As Christi's One More Things often go back to her dog Estelle, I'd like to take the opportunity to introduce my own puppy, Trek:

Trek is a former stray and his breed is a mix of god-knows-what, and he's about 11 months old. He loves cheese and belly rubs and learning new tricks. He hates skateboards, strollers, bicycles... basically anything with wheels.

We adopted him back in February, and we had to drive out to Madras to get him (about a two and a half hour drive) since the puppy market in Portland is apparently more competitive than the housing market! We must have applied for 20 or more puppies with various shelters in the area before we finally extended our search to Eastern Oregon. And I'm so glad we did - he's a great member of the family (okay, the cat would disagree with that statement).


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