Why Gen Z is big part of future of construction industry

The construction industry is one of the biggest, fastest-growing industries in the country, and it’s continuing to see an unprecedented demand for skilled employees.

In fact, the construction industry reported 441,000 job openings just last month, according to an Associated Builders and Contractors analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. That number is up 32,000 jobs from the same time last year.

However, the future of the construction depends upon a younger generation pursuing careers in the trades.  Currently, more than 1 in 5 construction workers are 55 or older, meaning that retirements will continue to shrink our industry’s workforce.

The good news is that more younger professionals than ever before are choosing trade work as a career path. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the number of carpenters in the U.S. grew over the past decade, while their median age fell from 42.2 to 40.9.

The same goes for electricians, whose ranks grew by 229,000 workers, while their median age fell by 2.9 years. The data also shows other skilled trade careers, including plumbing and HVAC occupations, are also trending younger.

Here in New Jersey, enrollment in vocational-technical schools has grown by about 23% over the past two decades and by about 6% over the past nine years, according to the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools. And, nationally, the ranks of students studying construction trades also rose 23%, according to the Journal.

So, why are more Gen Z professionals attracted to the construction industry? The truth is, college isn’t right for everyone. The upfront investment is high, as tuition has increased 213% over the past 30 years.  Many students come out of college with a general degree and years (even decades) of student loans to pay back.  Moreover, the underemployment rate for college graduates is 50%, meaning an individual is working in a job in which they are overqualified and underpaid.

Skilled trade jobs are a better fit for professionals who enjoy working with their hands, are entrepreneurial and looking to pursue well-paying careers without waiting four years (or more) after high school. And the demand for trade work continues to grow at unprecedented levels.  Right now, there is a strong demand for high-paying jobs in infrastructure projects, the construction industry and real estate.

That is why the Associated Builders and Contractors of New Jersey launched its Apprenticeship Training Program three years ago. We saw the critical need to educate more skilled trade workers that was not being met in New Jersey. ABC-NJ’s apprenticeship program provides paid, on-the-job training and classroom-based theoretical education in 15 skilled craft trades.

Working alongside local schools and businesses, we provide preapprenticeship construction readiness training, or CORE, and can help prospective apprentices get hired with one of more than 1,300 of our member companies. Our apprentices earn while they learn, pursuing an education while working full-time on the path to a successful lifetime career.

Apprentices benefit from on-the-job learning from an experienced mentor, combined with education courses to support work-based learning. Registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, all programs comply with strict federal and state requirements for formal apprenticeship and prevailing wage work. Upon successful completion, craft workers are eligible to be recognized at the journey level in their trade and receive a certificate of completion.

Trade work provides high salaries, fulfilling careers and the opportunity to run one’s own business. We need to have more conversations with our high school students to show them the different ways to enter this promising field of trade work.

Samantha DeAlmeida is president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of New Jersey.