by Chris Majzun Jr., President, North Coast Building Industry Association
At a time when countless college graduates are finding they are underemployed and saddled with crushing student debt, it is time for educators and policymakers to reexamine the widely held belief that a college degree represents the only road to success.
The building trades offer a great career path. Regrettably, fewer students are seeking careers in the construction industry because many parents and guidance counselors are steering them toward a college pathway rather than a vocational route.
This is particularly unfortunate, given the shortage of skilled workers in the residential construction industry and the fact that carpenters, electricians, framers, roofers and others in the field earn good salaries and express high job satisfaction.
Indeed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics Survey data and analysis by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the 2014 median annual wage of most positions in the residential building sector was $39,500 – 10 percent above the U.S. median annual wage of $35,540.
The labor shortages can be attributed in part to the fact that many skilled residential construction workers were forced to seek employment elsewhere during the Great Recession, when more than 1.4 million jobs were lost as builders across the nation were forced to shutter their doors or lay off workers. Many trades retrained their construction workers and they are not returning to the housing sector.
With the nationwide housing recovery now picking up steam, it is imperative that America trains more workers and leaders in the construction industry. The number of open construction sector jobs in March was 147,000, the third-highest monthly total since the Great Recession ended, according to the latest BLS data.
The problem is particularly acute here in our area. Labor shortages are harming our local builders, raising prices for consumers and slowing the housing recovery. Builders have experienced delays in completing homes, and in some cases, have had to cancel projects due to a shortage of workers. These delays and production bottlenecks are increasing the cost of building a home in Lorain, Erie and Huron counties, which in turn is raising costs for home buyers.
The residential construction industry is one of the few sectors where demand for new workers is rising, and the housing industry is working diligently to meet this challenge. HBI, a national leader in career training and the National Association of Home Builder’s workforce development arm, offers educational programs in 44 states and the District of Columbia, reaching more than 13,000 students each year. These include more than 10,000 students in HBI’s pre-apprenticeship programs and 3,500 students in 130 NAHB Student Chapters.
HBI Job Corps programs are located in 74 centers across the nation and offer pre-apprenticeship training in 10 residential construction trades. The training programs are national in scope, but implemented locally using proven models that can be customized to meet the workforce needs of communities across the nation. Those who graduate from the program enjoy an 80 percent job placement rate.
To meet the housing needs of a growing population, attitudes must change. Parents, teachers, counselors and students need to understand and believe that a vocational education is just as worthwhile as a conventional four-year college and that both routes offer satisfying career paths and financial gains. Academic institutions can aid in this effort by funding and promoting more two- and four-year programs that cater to students interested in construction management and the building trades.
As you are probably aware locally we also have LCJVS and EHOVE which provide a well-balanced program of academics and work-based learning experiences, along with club activities. Students receive hands-on work experience in their chosen field, while strengthening work ethics. Connections are made between the students and the community through job placement.
For more information about career training opportunities, hbi.org, or call the North Coast Building Industry Association at 440-934-1090.
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