Building Careers

When a new structure is being built, most of us just see concrete, steel and plywood as construction is underway. What most of us don't realize is just how many specialties go into turning an empty lot into a home, store, business, school, church or hospital.

There are architects, engineers, contractors, surveyors, excavators, steel and concrete workers, framers, roofers, electricians, HVAC technicians, telecommunication installers, plumbers, inspectors, drywall hangers, woodworkers, welders, masons, painters, flooring installers, designers and landscapers. It literally requires a small army of skilled trade professionals to properly construct a building. The construction industry offers its workforce one of the most diverse range of job opportunities in the country, each integral to a project.

October is Construction Careers Month, an initiative of Build Your Future and the National Center for Construction Education and Research. The aim is to raise awareness of the career opportunities in construction, highlight where students can get the skills training they need to start their career, and bring more attention to the skills gap that exists in the construction industry.

During the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, construction was one of the hardest hit industries, according to the most recent Construction Labor Market Analyzer (CLMA). While the overall unemployment rate during this time reached nearly 10 percent, in the construction sector, unemployment peaked at more than 20 percent. When the economy bottomed out, construction projects across the country were either cancelled or put on hold indefinitely forcing many workers to leave the industry through retirement or seek jobs in seemingly more stable fields.

Now with the economy bouncing back, the volume of construction projects is increasing and will only continue to rise, especially in the lodging, office, commercial, gas and manufacturing areas, according to the CLMA. Unfortunately, the construction workforce has not had the same rebound. An estimated one-sixth of workers will retire in the years ahead while the number of construction projects across the country continues to grow. The construction industry will need 1.5 million new workers to accommodate the volume of work that's expected in the next year, according to Build Your Future.

Nearly 50 percent of U.S. employers report having difficulty filling positions, and the primary jobs they have problems filling are in the skilled trade fields, according to the 2012 Talent Shortage Survey put out by the Manpower Group.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that middle skill jobs, jobs that require education and training beyond high school, but less than a bachelor's degree, will account for 45 percent of all job openings through 2014.

But as the higher education system has emphasized four-year degrees in the past 20 years, the perception and participation in vocational and technical programs has dropped, meaning there are fewer trained workers to offset retirements and growth in these skilled trades, including those in the construction industry.

We must do a better job of directing young people into fields where they can have a future. It's up to all of us to squash the misconceptions about construction jobs -- that they are low-paying and low-skilled. We must rather promote that these jobs are actually in high demand with paychecks to match. In fact, 27 percent of people who have a post-secondary license or certificate actually earn more than the average bachelor's degree recipient, according to the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

So next time you step foot into a new building, look around and think about all the master craftsmen that worked on that particular project and consider the countless hours spent in developing and applying their trade. Look at the workmanship and imagine the pride and sense of accomplishment that is evident in every detail. It often goes unnoticed, but there are many rewarding careers in the construction field, and one of them may be just right for you or for someone you care about.