Undisciplined, uninterested, lazy: We've heard these terms and worse to express remodelers' frustration with young workers. Attitudes toward work may be changing, but the rapid aging of the construction workforce suggests that remodelers might need to change as well.
“We have to face it. How many 40-year-olds are going to want to be carpenters forever?” says REMODELING columnist Shawn McCadden. “How do we show this younger generation that this is a career they can be proud of?”
One step might be to actively “brand” the profession to a generation that knows little about it. Tim Faller, another columnist, recently helped introduce 600 Connecticut high school students to careers in remodeling through Construction Career Days, a local effort of the National Construction Career Days Center (visit www.constructioncareerdays.us for more information).
The Connecticut event wasn't new, but previous years emphasized commercial construction and heavy equipment. “A lot of the counselors and teachers got exposure to home building and remodeling for the first time,” Faller says. “That's one of the biggest challenges — getting adults on board.”
Spearheaded by the Connecticut Home Builders' Association and held in a high-school parking lot, the two-day event emphasized hands-on learning, with fun activities including building a shed, making a cutting board, and participating in a nail-driving contest. About 30 HBA members volunteered their time and solicited donations of lumber and tools, as well as T-shirts for the students to keep.
“It was a blast,” Faller says. His point is that “if you try, you can find a venue and make an impact on high school kids,” he says. “We need to get out of this mode of thinking ‘nobody wants to do this work.' We have to get involved.”
LOOSEN UP Beyond active outreach, remodelers may also need to adjust their employment practices. “Maybe we need more flexibility,” McCadden says. “A lot of us live to work. The younger generation works to live.” Accommodating this perspective “might be the reality you need to have with them.”
Remodeler Jeff Robbins embraced this reality when he hired a 19-year-old helper. “He was willing to learn, and I was really flexible,” says Robbins, of Green Hill Beach, R.I. Besides letting the helper take off a few weeks here and there, with notice, Robbins helped him pay his rent, worked alongside him on “the nasty work,” and supported his interests, buying him a wetsuit, for instance. “It was a $200 or $300 item, but it served a larger purpose than just giving him $200 or $300,” he says.
The helper stayed for five years, leaving last year to explore out West. And if he comes back, “I would rehire him,” Robbins says. “No bridges burned. I think establishing a relationship beyond ‘Go pick up that pile of @#$% and put it in the Dumpster' is very important.”