There is no doubt that our industry and association have been tested these past few years. We have weathered one of the most severe and longest-lasting construction downturns most of us will—hopefully—ever have to endure. We have faced major regulatory challenges and coped with politicians that, at best, don’t understand our industry and, at worst, don’t trust it. We have also had to find ways to overcome the challenge of keeping this association relevant to an industry that is changing in size, scope, and business practices at a rate faster than any of us could possibly imagine.
Yet despite those challenges, our industry is more efficient; our association more effective; and our professionals savvier than they were five years ago. And while times are still tough in too many places for too many contractors, our industry is on the leading edge of recovery. Total construction spending was up over seven percent last year, while construction employment is at a three-year high. AGC’s Chief Economist Ken Simonson predicts construction spending will increase somewhere between six and ten percent this year, with the construction industry likely to add as many as 250,000 new workers.
After years of coping with the economic downturn, it is time for us to start preparing for the road to recovery. Among the challenges ahead, there will be the need to identify, recruit, and train the next generation of skilled construction workers. The sad truth is that years of dramatic job losses combined with chronic underinvestment in vocational education programs have left our workforce pipeline all but depleted. As demand for new construction increases, we are going to have to find a way to encourage students to consider careers in construction. And we are going to need to find new ways to prepare them for those careers.
This is one of my life passions, and one that has never left us with more challenges. We are competing for entry level talent with every other industry out there—from glamorous entertainment fields to high technology, healthcare, manufacturing, retail sales, finance, food service, and travel, to name only a few.
We build our projects in an intensely competitive market. We build our work in what can be a hazardous environment, in whatever weather comes our way, with whatever safety concerns that arise. We face tight regulatory burdens; we deal with labor issues, scheduling constraints, onerous contract language, and sometimes impossible specifications. Our people need to come to work every day, drug free and ready to be physically active for many hours at a stretch. Our industry and everyone working in it needs to be prepared for just about anything.
We know that there are tremendous rewards associated with our industry, and it is incumbent on us to extoll the positives in order to sell our nation’s youth on a career in construction. We need to build their knowledge about the financial benefits of working in our industry and about the tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment from seeing a project completed. We need to let them have some fun and understand that we pay them well to use their imagination and maybe even to get some exercise.
So get out there and promote our industry to our future workforce in the K–12 schools, in trade schools, and in our colleges and universities. If we don’t start doing something now, there won’t be anybody left to build the work that we all know is coming on this road to recovery.