One of the greatest privileges of serving as 2015-2016 NARI president is the opportunity to travel the country, meeting and speaking to NARI members and industry partners. While our conversations differ, many topics and concerns are repeated nearly everywhere I travel. What I hear about from coast to coast, and see in my own hometown of Atlanta, is a severe shortage of skilled workers in the construction industry.

NARI is not the only organization receiving reports of labor force shortages. The NAHB found in a January 2015 survey that 68% of respondents expected “cost/availability of labor” to be the most significant problem faced by builders during 2015. The Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) of Harvard University reported that skilled trades continue to top the list of the most difficult employment positions to fill in the U.S.

Conventional wisdom would say that as the economy continues to improve and homeowners move forward with improvement projects, workers would flock to join our ranks. So where are they? The short answer is many left our industry when the recession hit, and they have not returned.

As NARI president, I am strongly advocating for members of our organization to think outside the box to recruit and train individuals to our workforce. The remodeling industry needs to be inclusive and welcoming to young people, non-traditional workers like legal international residents, and, yes, women. These are the demographics we should seek for workforce growth. 

First, we’ve got to change the perceptions that young people and their parents have regarding our industry. We can begin by speaking at high schools about the opportunities and rewards of a career in remodeling. Also, we need to offer young people attractive educational opportunities by partnering with local schools to create relevant courses designed to help graduates transition to the workforce. It is disconcerting to note that apprenticeship programs, according to the Department of Labor, have steadily fallen from 2001 to 2014. 

Next, let’s reach out to legal internationals and welcome them into NARI. How? Local chapters should partner with diverse remodeling and construction associations to build relationships, foster education, and certifications. We need to acknowledge that legal internationals are important to our industry. In 2013, foreign–born workers accounted for approximately 27.9% of the construction industry workforce, according to JCHS. Let us grow this number and increase the ranks of skilled workers in our industry. NARI chapters such as Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta have begun to welcome and partner with diverse associations. 

Finally, women are a great untapped resource for our business. Certainly I am biased on the subject, but the fact is women make over 60% of the decisions when a home is remodeled. And yet, women comprise less than 10% of the remodeling industry workforce. Why can’t our clients experience the added value of a woman on every team? Again, I believe it’s because we’ve failed to emphasize recruiting and educating woman to be part of our labor force. We need to seek out opportunities to tell our story to young girls in our communities. It’s not that we are keeping them out; it’s that we are not encouraging them to enter. 

A group that has succeeded is the Oregon Tradeswoman Association. On a trip to Portland, I learned that they have experienced more than 400 applications for 100 available positions in skilled trades. We need to accomplish more of the same success.

I hope that this year as I am NARI president, I may speak and write to groups of young women to explain that this is a profession where they can excel. Women can be naturals in the remodeling industry; after all, it is the home.

Our world has changed, and our industry must change, too. So spread the word, talk to groups, and be an agent of change. By diversifying our workforce, we will bring new talent, expertise, and skills to the remodeling industry, for the benefit of us all.