Do people not want to work (in construction) anymore?

Whether it’s a cry of frustration or an angry complaint, the phrase “people don’t want to work anymore” seems to have permeated social media as businesses of all types and sizes lament the great resignation.

Construction is no stranger to labor shortages. Over several decades, funding that advocates for higher education as the primary career route for young adults has continued to increase, drying the well of entry-level workers for the trades. Many believe there is a sentiment that people don’t want to work with their hands anymore in what can be a dirty, back-breaking job.

The industry faces a gap of roughly half a million workers, a shortage that will only worsen with increased demand for labor as a result of the billions of dollars set to flow from federal infrastructure funding.

But the fact of the matter is a career in construction can offer a clear pathway to the middle class and prosperity. 

Here, Construction Dive speaks with multiple sources about the dangers of assuming people don’t want to work, and how to proactively think about recruiting Generation Z and millenials to the trades.

Communication director, Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters

As a millennial, I hate it [when people say that].

From my side, it’s tough. We have areas where we are handcuffed by our actual amount of time that we can spend with an apprentice to make sure we teach them. But when we get a good apprentice, they want to work. It’s kind of the only way to make it in our industry. You can’t not want to work. 

Our industry is very much based on working so that you can’t not work, if that makes sense. Unemployment is a real part of the construction industry, because when a job’s finished, your job’s finished and you can get that to the next job. But there might be times that the next job isn’t there yet. 

And that’s why fair wages and benefits are so important to us because when you don’t have work, you need to be set up. That’s why we fight for those wages. That’s why we fight for those benefits. So you are set so that you can have the time to get to that next job if that’s what happens. 

The only way to make it in our organization is if you want to work. So, I mean, I don’t think we really see it as much on our side when it comes to young people. And if you’re interested in working with your hands, you’re already interested in working.

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CEO, Superior Construction

Nick Largura

Permission granted by Superior Construction

I think no doubt there are a lot easier jobs than construction. In my mind, if you’re looking for an easier life, there probably is an easier life, but I think there are much more rewarding jobs than delivering Amazon packages.

Part of getting people into the industry is making the public know that what [construction workers] are doing is supporting the greater good, and are part of something bigger than themselves. You know the old adage, “you don’t want to end up digging a ditch.” Well, if we can explain that the ditches are there to keep the water off the road so the farmer can grow his crops, so people can go to school, it is very rewarding.

I think that’s the bigger part of it: Showing how critical [construction work] is. It’s an absolute necessity for the country. Getting people excited about it, I think that’s the best way we can do it.

I’m the biggest fan of how rewarding a career construction can be. Do you like challenges? Do you like figuring out how to do stuff? This is the perfect industry for you. I think we can create a better environment for it, I don’t think it’s going to come overnight but I think as long as we continue to preach the message and show people where you can go, it’s going to help out.

I also think we need to shift it back to the high schools. When I was in high school, they had a shop class and drafting and architecture, all the stuff that really prepares you for a construction industry. Now high school is about getting you ready for college, and if you don’t go to college, you failed. I think we really have to change that dialogue.

Vocational schools, I think, would really help with that. The more success stories we can have out there for people, the more I think it’ll drive that interest.

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Executive director, National Center for Craftsmanship

Robb Sommerfeld

Permission granted by Robb Sommerfeld

Well, with the people that I deal with, I’m not seeing that [they don’t want to work]. The young folks that I work with and meet, they’re ready. They just want to be given a chance. They want to be given the training.

Because when you say, “Hey, how would you like to have a lifelong career and not have any debt?” I’m saying, “There’s alternatives to college.” If you like working with your hands, building, making things, there’s an alternative.

But for so many years we have told people it’s college or nothing, and now there’s this negative concept that if you go into the trades, oh, you’re blue collar. That’s BS. Because I have met HVAC people that come to my house and I asked one of them his salary. He told me, with overtime, six figures.

He’s working on my AC unit, and he is making six figures.

We have to shift this paradigm back to being able to build the country. How do you do that? Well, you build from the ground up by educating people and giving them the skills.

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Executive director, Constructing Hope

Patricia Daniels

Permission granted by Constructing Hope

People who say that [young people don’t want to work], they’re probably not talking to the right people. Construction is just like any other job, it’s about being educated about it. Once the men and women in our program have become educated about it, our best way of recruiting is word of mouth. Their friends saw them doing this, and they may have been working in another industry.

It’s being educated about the opportunities, and we have not educated the general public. And so most people still have that idea, and it’s not that they’re lazy and don’t want to work. They have no clue about the opportunity for growth and having a living wage and retirement that the construction industry affords. So at some point, I think it’s not that people don’t want to work. I think they’re just not educated about what that opportunity is. And we’re still stuck in that stigma that it’s a dirty job and it’s not for people who are smart. 

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