Writing recently in REMODELING's sister publication JLC, I tackled an issue that is encroaching more and more on the industry—the shortage of skilled labor. It's a problem that ramped up a decade ago and we seem no closer to a solution. In May, the NAHB Remodeling Market Index reported that roughly 85% of remodelers reported shortages of workers available to perform finished or rough carpentry, and nearly half (48%) classified the shortage of finish carpenters as "serious." There's no trade spared: remodelers across the country are pinched by not being able to fill positions in every trade, according to NAHB Remodelers. NARI came to a similar conclusion in 2016, citing numbers slightly lower but now slightly older. It's possible the problem may be getting worse.
All eyes now are on the younger population. Why can't we attract young people to remodeling careers? What never gets discussed in industry reports, but may prove to have the greatest impact on the lack of youth participation in the trades, is the issue of social class. Young people today don't want to align with outmoded, underserved, and culturally marginalized social group. Put bluntly: Young folks don't want to be associated with what they perceive as lower-class work. Where the various sectors of the construction industry do align with positive media and technologically sophisticated challenges, young participants are showing a high degree of interest, even showing great innovation and leadership.
If we want to create viable careers for young people in the trades, make jobs as lucrative as possible. These are not so much "dirty jobs" as they are lucrative and challenging careers, comparable to other top professions. The challenging part is not a problem for our industry, but making it lucrative for all involved is harder, though hardly impossible. In this year's class of Big50 winners, a majority listed their personnel as key to their success, and many detailed the measures they are taking to make workers welcome in their company. Repeatedly, these forward-thinking remodelers used the phrase "it's not just about money."
Certainly, the labor demand for business owners weighs heavily on the bottom line, but what is this work without labor? This problem is solved by employers putting themselves in their employee's shoes: What opportunities would you want? Why aren't your employees or prospective hires where you are? Compassion and team building go hand in hand.