Nationwide the construction industry needs 650,000 more workers to meet building demand this year alone, according to experts. Adding to the urgency is that up to 40 percent of the construction workforce is expected to retire by 2030. After many years of bad news about the construction trades workforce comes the good news this week that enrollment in skilled trades programs has boomed since the start of the pandemic.
Decline in College Enrollment
According to report from NPR this week, since the start of the pandemic, more than 1 million students have opted to start work instead of going to college. Two-year and four-year colleges have seen their enrollments fall. Hardest impacted are two-year public schools with enrollment down 13.2 percent in 2022 versus 2019, according to a National Student Clearinghouse Research report published in the fall.
Boost in Construction Trades
The undergraduate majors of those enrolled in two-year institutions has also shifted dramatically since 2019, with a decline in students majoring in fields like agricultural science (-6.5%), public administration and social services (-4.2 percent), and family and consumer science (-5.2 percent), but a significant increase in students studying construction trades (+8.6%), and architectural and related services (+6.1 percent). This is good news for the home building and construction industry.
According to a September 2021 report from Associated General Contractors of America, 89 percent of contractors found it difficult to find workers who were already trained for the job, and 61 percent of those contractors reported project delays because of lack of available workers.
AGC says that the federal government spends $1 on career training for every $6 it puts into college preparation, leaving a funding gap that puts contractors at a significant disadvantage.
College Costs Driving Many
Many of those who enrolled in certificate or two-year degree programs in skilled trades cite the high cost of college overall as a factor in their decision enroll in a certificate or trades study program at a two-year college.
Moreover, getting a job that pays good money is a motivating factor for most. A new study from Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce found that a growing number of people without a bachelor’s degree are now out-earning degreed professionals. The report notes that on average, for 2017-2019, 16 percent of high school graduates, 23 percent of workers with some college, and 28 percent of those with associate degrees earned more than half of all workers with a bachelor’s degree.
Why It Matters
The building industry has been focused for years on attracting talent to the trades and this is evidence that perhaps some of that effort is paying off. The high cost of college and the desire of many young people to earn money more quickly is also contributing to the increased interest in the trades. For companies looking for talent, emphasizing that more education doesn’t necessarily mean more money can help sway those who are weighing the investment and career potential of a four-year degree.