If kids raised on the jobsite are any indication, more industry exposure will solve construction’s worker shortage

Marcia Doyle Headshot
Updated Apr 4, 2019

 

Construction worker teaching a female construction apprentice how to operate heavy equipment

have a highly impractical suggestion to combat our construction workforce shortage: adopt.

This thought has recently been underscored by conversations I’ve had with five contractors, all under 30. Two of them are now partially out on their own, determined to grow companies that at the same time remain small. Three others are in positions of responsibility, working their way up from grunt to foreman to estimators and division leaders.

They all have one thing in common: they have been or still are part of a family construction business. Mostly it’s father to son, but in one instance, it’s uncle to nephew.

What is it about a family construction business that draws these young people in? As many contractors know, it’s not always a given that the next generation will fall in line. Many older contractors acknowledge to me that they’re mighty lucky when a son or daughter or another family member raises their hand.

If it’s just a gene trait that’s handed down, then my adoption suggestion is for naught. But in this particular heredity-versus-environment argument, environment wins. Think about what’s learned just by being around parents or relatives who are in the midst of creating a thriving construction firm: how your word is your bond, how to muscle through a tough job, how to treat the people who are essential to your family’s continued success.

Not to mention the cool toys.

“I’ve been running machines my whole life and started working when I was 9,” a 27-year-old told me. “I was making $3 an hour doing odd jobs after school and that was a lot of money to a 9-year-old.”

“I’ve been working outside with equipment my whole life,” says a 28-year-old, who first had a stint with another company before coming back into his parents’ firm. That sales job gave him great preparation for stepping back in. “I’ve always been close with my family and this gave me the opportunity to continue in sales,” he says. “I like the smaller feel of the company and the future is bright.”

“I just haven’t done anything else that I enjoy as much,” adds his 26-year-old brother.

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And this from yet another young gun: “I guess I was just born into it. I would be bored with doing the same thing every day.”

Of course, these are young men who have the opportunity to take over when the present leadership calls it quits. And one of them is forging his own path, getting into site development while his parents remain in landscaping.

Still, out of all of the choices a young person has these days, they chose construction. They chose to forgo an 8-to-5 job and ride the market cycles that make this an uncertain business. They were raised in it, and they’re staying.

Now if we could just raise a few more…