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Finding Young Talent

More than three quarters of remodelers surveyed by Qualified Remodeler indicate they struggle to find young, new talent, yet the vast majority do very little to recruit new talent, such as speaking at local schools or attending job fairs.

Kenneth C. Wilson, director, at Raleigh, N.C.-based FMI Corp., observes a labor shortage across all industries – not necessarily just construction. “I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in the Gulf region and they project within the next five years or so they will have a shortage as high as 86,000 skilled trade positions, much of which is driven by the sure in the oil and gas business. It’s very serious,” Wilson says. He notes several companies have developed consortiums and are working through local trade associations. Some also are starting internal training programs. 

“Part of this challenge is being aggravated by the lack of young people coming into the trade union apprenticeship programs,” Wilson continues. “It’s difficult to get young people interested because their perception of the industry is that it’s a dirty job; it’s outdoors and not a very enticing career choice for them.”

Recognizing the coming skilled trade shortage, however, several organizations are working to alleviate the problem. ACE (Architecture Construction Engineering) Mentor Program was founded in 1994 and inspires high school students to pursue careers in design and construction; it reaches more than 8,000 students annually.

SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure the U.S. has a skilled workforce. More than 300,000 students and advisors join the organization annually in more than 17,000 sections and 52 state and territorial associations. SkillsUSA has served more than 11.2 million people since its founding in 1965.

Mark Foye, owner of Westbrook, Maine-based J&M Inc., a flooring contractor, is in the minority who does not have trouble with a younger talent pool. “We look for workers who are four to five years out of high school, who may have gone to college or not, and they really don’t know what they want to do in life,” Foye explains. “We give them an opportunity to learn a trade.” 

Foye finds employees through referrals, newspaper and Craigslist ads and trade schools. “We tell them from the start they can take it as far as they want to, stay a laborer or move up to being a job foreman. We don’t have much of a turnover with employees when you talk to them and treat them fairly and with respect. We like to train our people so they do the job the way we want it done. That way we do not deal with bad habits and below par work that they may have learned from other positions. We say do the job once, look back, be proud and move on to the next challenge.”

Here are some other comments from survey respondents about why they think it is difficult to find young talent. Do you agree? Have you had similar experiences?

  • There’s easy money elsewhere.
  • Finding any new employee requires work and creative searching. We have been successful recently in hiring young people. We haven’t done anything special to do that; it’s more of a mindset on my part to look for the right person. We have made a decision to look for talent and then provide the training they need to do that job.
  • Vocational programs have been taken out or severely reduced in grade and high schools. Wages have remained flat or have declined. A lot of this has to do with the economy. I also believe in many markets the high percentage of illegal aliens competing drives labor prices down. Now, more than ever, the best repeat clients are shopping a lot more. We need a fair immigration act. This way, the illegals work legally, pay taxes and apply for citizenship. Labor prices would naturally rise and the playing field would be more level. There are many young Americans with talent that gravitate to the vocational trades. We need these people. By strengthening our vocational trade programs and passing common sense legislation, eventually the marketplace will respect and reward the trades fairly again.
  • Nobody wants to get their hands dirty anymore.
  • Work ethics are poor for a lot of young people today.
  • It is difficult finding consistent, dedicated associates with a long-term commitment.
  • Most young people are more tech-oriented and less manual skill-oriented.
  • Younger people are not encouraged to enter the construction field.

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