The Marcus Foundation has announced a $250,000 grant to an Atlanta-based educational resource to help encourage younger workers to consider a career in the construction industry. The grant, awarded to Trade Talks USA, will provide counseling materials, and help in referring those interested in a future in the building trades.
It is part of an effort by the Marcus Foundation, which was started by Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of The Home Depot, to call attention to a critical shortage of construction workers in Georgia and in the nation. At the foundation, Marcus Ruzek, a senior program director, considers the problem something that doesn’t garner enough attention.
“It’s a hidden societal problem. We do not have a robust enough pipeline to train more skilled tradespeople into things like carpentry, plumbing, heating and air conditioning, electricians, and other construction workers. There is a massive need for more of them. The Marcus Foundation believes that our society has been fed a narrative that the only way to be successful is to go to college. And we just don’t agree with that.”
According to the Associated Builders and Contractors, an industry trade group, the construction industry needs to recruit at least 65,000 additional workers this year on top of the normal pace of hiring to meet the demand for labor; not only in the demand-strong market like Atlanta, where construction continues at a record pace, but nationally. New legislation passed last fall to modernize the nation’s infrastructure of roads, bridges, tunnels, and other public works will create an unprecedented demand.
The pressure is already being felt. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction workers with only a high school education can make more than double the average hourly wage than in other industries that are facing labor shortages. According to the federal agency, restaurant and hotel workers earn just over $18 an hour on average compared to almost $33 for construction workers.
For Ruzek, a crucial part of the problem is just getting the word out.
“You can have the greatest trades training or job training program in the world. And if people don’t have access to it and they don’t know that it exists, then it’s not worth anything. And so, you know, part of what trade talks is doing here is challenging the country’s narrative around these career fields.”
You can have the greatest trades training or job training program in the world. And if people don’t have access to it and they don’t know that it exists, then it’s not worth anything. And so, you know, part of what trade talks is doing here is challenging the country’s narrative around these career fields.
This is the third grant that the foundation has made to Trade Talks USA, which works with the Georgia’s Construction Ready program of the technical college system to develop short term training opportunities.
“The technical college system of Georgia is an example where we actually help them produce a marketing material that really promoted the construction trades programs within the technical college system, as well as one program in particular, to help recruit heating and air conditioning technicians,” said Dave McCulloch, executive director of Trade Talks USA. “They were looking to really get the word out because that is one of those areas that really has a high demand for those positions.”
Not only is the construction industry interested in recruiting new workers, but in keeping them once they are trained. According to government statistics over the past decade, the average monthly turnover rate in construction has been 5.2 percent compared to 3.6 percent for all industries.
With fewer workers, the industry is increasingly turning to technology to solve the problem. Michael Bellaman, the president and chief executive officer of the Associated Builder and Contractors, says the organization’s members spent $1.3 billion on technological training in the last year for the industry’s employees.
“The industry is using technology and innovation to basically handle this disruption with regards to the labor shortage. There’s more use of drones, robotics, and additive manufacturing,” Bellaman said. “That, though, creates new career opportunities in those innovation and technology spaces. And we’re hoping that’s very attractive to the younger generation.”
Without more new workers, the construction industry, where the average age of workers is 43, is only going to continue to age. It’s given a new urgency not only to what foundations are doing, but what the industry, according to Marcus Ruzek, is doing to help itself.
“Industry is the one that really needs to own this and take this situation further. Philanthropy can only do so much. It’s got to come from within the industry. Home Depot has actually started an internal business workforce development program that is all about building talent and pipelines and helping provide the Home Depot with pros, which are the contractors and subcontractors that work with Home Depot, providing them with access to really great construction talent. And so, they’ve been leading the way in the industry, but they’re not the only one that needs to step up to the plate.”
- construction industry
- Marcus Foundation
- Marcus Ruzek
- Dave McCullough
- Trade Talks USA
- Bob Bahr
- counseling materials
- Bernie Marcus
- The Home Depot
- Associated Builders and Contractors
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Georgia’s Construction Ready program
- Dave McCulloch
- Michael Bellaman