Labor shortages cut across all fields and specialties within the building trades. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) estimates the industry as a whole is down some 250,000 workers nation-wide.
The construction industry has not “caught up” to the economic effects of the housing crisis of the late-aughts. Lack of Millennial interest and training in the building trades plus the immigration crackdown have left too many job sites empty and too many developers bankrupt. As a result, housing costs are skyrocketing beyond the point that would-be buyers can afford to pay.
Stephen Melman, an economist with the NAHB, predicts the labor shortage will only deteriorate more into the near future. The industry as a whole forecasts a growth rate of 4-5% in housing starts in 2019 and an increase in necessary construction labor positions of +12% between now and 2016.
Currently, women represent less than 3% of the construction workforce, including building trades and management, in this country. If twice as many women were to work within the construction industry, the industry’s labor shortage, according to the US Department of Labor, ”… would be gone.”
The hurdles for women in construction are many. According to Katrina Kersch, CEO of the National Center for Construction Education and Research, “There’s a perception that (construction) is not an industry friendly to women. There is a scarcity of images that represent women working in the building trades. There are stereotypes of male construction workers being disrespectful and often rude to women working in construction.”
Additionally, there are serious physical labor requirements that women may not be able to meet. And there are questions about getting into the field in terms of apprenticeship programs through unions, lack of vocational tech training classes and no established web of contacts and mentors for women to tap into for training and advancement opportunities.
Simultaneous with those hurdles, there are significant upsides for women in construction. First and foremost is wages. A focus on hard skills helps with pay equity. Women earn $ .97 to every $1.00 earned by men in construction. (On average, women earn $ .80 to every $1.00 earned by men.) Plus, the industry’s average wage just topped $30/hour in October 2018.
Most programs that recruit and train women to work in hard skills happen at the local level through the National Association of Women in Construction and Women in Operations. The most successful pre-apprenticeship programs exist in New York, Vermont and Oregon. One long-standing program, Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW) in New York, has a retention rate in placement of over 80%. These programs educate women about industry options, train their bodies for the work and help prepare them for entrance exams offered by trade unions.
Some large general contractors collaborate with community colleges to offer training and apprenticeship programs for women. S & B Engineers and Constructors in Houston offer one-off programs and boot camps for women interested in construction. And Power-Up, an Atlanta-based initiative, offers programs for girls and women who are interested in the construction industry.