The next generation of carpenters. Currently, about 20% of the construction workforce is age 55 and older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, suggesting that a substantial portion could retire in the near future, underscoring the need to attract more youthful talent to the industry. <i>photo: Richard Laughlin, Laughlin Homes + Restoration</i>

In September 2019, I wrote “How Will Construction Solve Its Skilled Labor Crisis?” for JLC. That article defined the scope of our industry’s labor problem and pointed out that we can temporarily solve for skilled labor by paying well and offering employees an appealing mix of benefits (including authentic gestures that foster a feeling of respect toward employees and pride in belonging to a crackerjack company), but ultimately our industry faces a demographic challenge: Skilled tradespeople are aging out, and we must attract more young people. The article prompted a flood of letters and emails, and a number of speaker invitations. It seemed I’d touched a nerve by uttering, “What never gets discussed in industry reports, but may prove to have the greatest impact on the lack of youth participation, is the issue of social class. Young people today don’t want to align with outmoded, underserved, and culturally marginalized social groups. Put bluntly: Young folks don’t want to be associated with what they perceive as low-class work.”

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