Diversifying the Industry’s Workforce to Address the Labor Shortage

As the residential construction industry continues to grapple with a severe labor shortage, one solution is clear to many industry leaders.

“You have a potential labor force that is underutilized – women,” said NAHB’s former Professional Women in Building (PWB) Council Chair Juli Bacon during a roundtable discussion at the 2018 International Builders’ Show in Orlando.

While the industry is making progress in reintroducing the trades in schools, it’s time to also think about how to expand the type of students being recruited.

IBS panelists

From left: Catherine Schoenenberger, Juli Bacon, Heather Stafford Gay and Vanessa Myers discuss the labor shortage.

Women continue to make up a small percentage of the overall number of workers in the construction industry — about 9%, according to National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) — prompting some industry leaders to examine what can be done to remove obstacles that are preventing more women from pursuing careers in residential construction.

Reframing Recruitment Efforts

“I think some of it has to do with being able to tell a story to women in a way that might be a little bit different than telling that story to young men,” said panelist Heather Stafford Gay, CAPS, MPA, Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis.

When Gay hosts recruiting events, young women often express their interest in construction management or one of the trades, but then mention their concerns with the curriculum or are afraid that they won’t fit in to a male-dominated field.

“Being able to ask a young woman, are you a problem solver? Do you like to motivate your team? If you’re a person who’s interested in that, this can be an attractive field,” she said.

Gay also cautions that it’s important to think holistically about how to retain women once they are recruited into the industry.

“We need to give them a career path,” that also supports their competing demands of raising a family and balancing their professional and personal lives, she said. “Business as usual will no longer work for businesses that want to diversify.”

Rebranding the Trades

One challenge to addressing the overall labor shortage is debunking the myth that pursuing a career in the trades is less valuable than a typical white-collar office job.

“The trades in general need to be rebranded,” said panelist Vanessa Myers, Senior Product Manager, Cengage. “Instructors say that parents are one of their biggest challenges in getting students into the trades program. Parents want their kids in a four-year degree program. They don’t realize the value of the trades.”

Panelist Catherine Schoenenberger, NAWIC’s national president, concurred: “Construction is not a job; construction is a career.”

The panelists also agreed that mentorships are key to recruiting and retaining female workers.

“Having a mentorship program within your company is important. Millennials are especially interested in this,” said Bacon.

PWB is focused on enhancing its mentorship program and providing the support women need to develop throughout their careers. For more information about how PWB can help with your recruitment efforts, visit nahb.org/whypwb.

IBS attendees can download a free replay of this IBS education session, Labor Shortage Solutions: Leading Trade Organizations Share Strategies to Attract & Support Women in Building, through IBS Education on Demand.

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