By Brooks Parker, Vice President of Craftforce Development, Messer Construction Co.
A career in construction offers rich opportunities for advancement, a great work life, competitive wages, and skills that can’t be shipped overseas. Despite these facts, the younger generations in this country are largely ignoring the opportunity to join our booming industry. This needs to change.
The current construction workforce shortage is well-documented: 30% of construction workers left the industry after the economic downturn in 2008, and they have not returned to the field. 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring each day, fueling a huge gap in every industry. At the same time, Millennials currently make up 34% of the overall workforce but will account for over 50% by 2020—so attracting this generation to construction is critical.
Further aggravating the problem is the tendency for fewer young people to even consider construction as an occupation worth pursuing. Most school counselors encourage their students to attend college, which I’m sure they believe is the best possible path forward for them, but could many of these students be better served if they were encouraged to explore the chance to help build our nation’s homes, skyscrapers and infrastructure?
Construction Presents Unique (and Attractive) Career Opportunities
We have come a long way since 2008. The construction industry is booming—but it is also desperate for workers. Now is the perfect time to pursue a career in construction. And I don’t mean just a job, but a career.
Here are a few benefits that young construction workers now have available to them throughout their construction careers:
1. Advancement Opportunities
I began my career with Messer Construction Co. as a general laborer in 1974, and have since worked my way through the ranks as a carpenter foreman, a field superintendent, a project manager, and more. (I’m currently the VP of Craftforce Development – an executive role within the company.)
Some years ago, our current apprenticeship program was born out of the desire to boost our employees’ career growth. Offered free of charge, Messer’s suite of skill enhancement courses allow employees to learn from experts online in the comfort of their own home. Recognized by the Department of Labor, our training program stands out as one of the best internal development benefits in the industry. Upon completion of our two-year Laborer program, students can choose to advance into an accredited carpenter program, or even to convert their apprenticeship hours into academic credit toward a bachelor’s degree with one of our partner universities.
For Millennials, these free training programs are an especially big hit. In my experience, they care just as much about contributing to companies and advancing in their careers as the rest of us, if not more, and the fact that you can do it at no extra cost is a big bonus.
2. An Incredible Company Culture
Construction companies typically also offer a unique working culture that you simply cannot find elsewhere (certainly not in a “typical” office job).
Ask our contractor employees what exactly they love about what they do, and you’ll start to hear a lot of similar responses:
- The camaraderie of working on big projects with a close-knit crew
- Working outside, in the elements (yes, many of us love it even in the cold!)
- Working on your feet, with your hands, and learning how to use impressive machinery
- Regularly doing something different, such as working on a multitude of projects, enjoying the challenge of learning new skills and technology, meeting new people, and taking on new sets of tasks
- The ability, at the end of the day, to look at a completed project that you helped create and say, “Hey, I did that!”
3. Job Security
As I mentioned before, erecting and remodeling buildings can’t be outsourced to cheaper markets. This provides an inherent safety net that many other jobs cannot provide.
But on top of that, construction workers also have an entrepreneurial opportunity that’s often overlooked. While it’s part of my job to keep Messer’s top-tier craftforce happy and comfortable, at the end of the day any one of them has the chance to be their own boss if they so choose. If you know how to put on shingles, for example, you can very easily become an entrepreneur. Once you acquire the necessary skills and methods, a contractor could walk door-to-door and very quickly strike deals to help fix a neighbor’s roof, knock down a friend’s wall, install a new chimney—you name it.
4. Good Pay
On top of the fact that construction skills are in high demand right now, these jobs pay pretty well to boot!
A recent PBS article about the need for more tradespeople pointed out that the United States currently has 30 million jobs that pay an average of $55,000 per year and don’t require a bachelor’s degree. That’s money young people may be missing out on by going straight to college rather than considering training in industrial and other trades. The article also states that people with technical and career educations are “slightly more likely to be employed than their counterparts with academic credentials” and they are “significantly more likely to be working in their fields of study” according to Department of Education reports.
Construction offers job security, opportunities for advancement, a great working culture, and higher pay. So, how can we make sure young people have the chance to at least consider this career path?
The Key is Exposing People to These Opportunities
Unfortunately, many young people who would not only thrive in this industry but also enjoy the above benefits are not receiving the proper education about these opportunities, nor are they receiving the motivation to pursue these interests.
The key to changing this comes down to communication. Here at Messer, we conduct regular outreach to area schools and career fairs with the aim to reframe construction as the golden career opportunity that it truly is. You might be surprised at the reactions of students who have the opportunity to actually try out our equipment, to speak to our current craftforce, and to learn about our training and advancement programs. With the proper exposure, young men and women very quickly realize that this is a profession worth considering.
To those who are mentoring young people—whether it’s parents, guidance counselors, friends, or family—please continue to keep your loved one’s best interests at heart. If you know someone who may be interested in exploring a career in construction, share this article with them. You can also direct them to Messer’s website or LinkedIn page or get in touch with us anytime if you have any thoughts or questions about exploring a career in construction.
Or hey, reach out to me directly. I know what it's like to get in there, put in the work, do what I love, and rise up the ranks. I’d love to talk with you about it.
While the workforce shortage won’t be solved overnight, it is a problem that affects us all and it needs solving. I hope the ideas presented here will help convince more young people to give the construction industry a shot—because if they do, I’m confident they will love it just as much as I do.
Brooks Parker began his career with Messer in 1975 as a journeyman carpenter. He is a graduate from Hocking College, holds certifications in Mobile Crane Inspection, Mobile & Tower Crane Operations (NCCCO), Master Trainer (NCCER), and ACI Concrete Flatwork Finisher & Technician, and is an OSHA 500 authorized construction trainer. Since joining Messer, Brooks quickly progressed and was promoted to carpenter foreman, field superintendent, and then to project manager in 1995. During this time, he gained proven project experience on numerous projects including hospitals, religious, government, retail, entertainment, industrial facilities, laboratories, multi-family housing, parking structures, distribution centers, and office buildings.
In his current role, Brooks applies his 40 years of construction industry experience to lead the company’s craftforce division. He provides strategic direction while managing education development and resource opportunities. Outside of Messer, Brooks serves on the board for Brighton Center, Great Oaks Institute of Technology and Career Development Advisory Committee, the Woodward Career Technical Advisory Council along with other various workforce committees.