I recently spoke with many heads of construction management departments at U.S. schools. They all had the same plea: “Help us attract new talent to our programs. Find ways to bring more young people into our industry.”
The distress call for talented young people is echoing throughout every corridor of every gathering of construction leaders. As a 35-year veteran of recruiting management talent for construction, I also can attest that this is the most serious and common problem facing our industry today.
The current lack of talent pales beside the potential shortfall that lies in the future. The problems you currently face in staffing your jobsite, department, or corporation are not short term.
Here are some hard facts. Construction employs almost 7 million people. The average age is 47. Over the next seven years, the number of workers age 55 and over will increase four times the overall growth rate of the labor force.
Experts anticipate the industry will need almost 3 million new workers over the next 15 years. That seems manageable when you look at the period 1980-2000, when the industry added 3.5 million new workers. But 20 million fewer people were born between 1959 and 1979 than in the previous “Boomer Generation.” And the number of college graduates is expected to fall similarly.
Five years ago, how long did it take you to fill a position for a project engineer or project manager? How many candidates were available? How much did you pay a person to join your firm? What are those numbers today? What do you expect them to be in five years?
Our industry is large, competitive and fragmented. Owners, designers, engineers and builders must find a way to come together and focus their energy and resources on this problem.
First, we must attract young people to our industry at an early age. We must dramatically expand education and training opportunities for young people. The ACE Mentoring Program and AGC Career Academy Programs have made enormous strides channeling young people into construction. We should promote these programs in every school district.
Second, our universities teaching engineering and construction management must be supported in a significant manner. Craig Capano at Western Carolina University estimates that 3,000 students will graduate in 2006 in the U.S. with degrees in construction management. About 9,000 jobs await them.
Western Carolina began its CM department two years ago with 20 students. Today, 240 are enrolled and 70 more will enroll in the fall. At that point, Western will have to begin refusing students.
Western needs more teachers, classrooms and facilities to meet the demand. With help, Western could increase enrollment to more than 600 within three years. Without assistance, Western is constrained. Hundreds of other colleges and universities are faced with the same restrictions.
Students pay to attend, universities pay to educate, but we as an industry pay nothing to reap the rewards. It is time to “adopt” construction institutions that produce our lifeblood of talent.
Finally, a national internship program should be established. It would allow students to connect with all types of owners, designers, builders and contractors while still in school and give students access to career paths in new corners of the industry and country.
Resources and ideas exist to solve the problem. It is time for someone, or some group, to take the first step in leadership.