How to Add Construction Jobs for Younger Workers


A brief article in the Wall Street Journal concludes that, nationally, a significant part of the disappearance of construction workers has to do with a gap in the supply line.  (We’re putting aside, I guess, the degree to which illegal immigrants have pushed part of the construction industry out of view.)

By supply line, I mean new, young workers:

The two researchers also looked at industry hiring to come up with another possible reason for a tightening labor market within the construction sector: Simply, construction companies didn’t hire enough young workers.

“The percent of hires accounted for by the 19-25 age group declined from approximately 18% at its peak before 2006 to 13% in 2012-13,” Janicki and McEntarfer said. “In comparison, the composition of hires of workers in the 25-34 and 34-44 age groups shows much more modest declines over this time period.”

During my construction years in a growing shop, I worked with a number of young guys.  A good number spun out of the job because it could be difficult and uncomfortable.  Some chugged along with it as the best available option, at the moment.  And some (like me) quickly advanced in the ranks, investing in tools, to become full carpenters and even foremen.

Young workers, in short, are a gamble for construction companies.  At a time when employees are plentiful (and willing to take less money), contractors will prefer more-seasoned guys who are more reliable and more flexible and advanced in what they can do and who have more of their own equipment.

That tendency could be reversed, though, if the industry were more free.  That is, if the government licensing, regulating, and permitting processes weren’t so burdensome, if employers were free to pay employees what employees are willing to work for, and if the policies for public projects weren’t so tilted toward labor unions, then individual tradesmen could start their own small crews, relying on help from younger men and women, and build up both the companies and the employees to their unique potential.

But we don’t like freedom and its benefits anymore in Rhode Island or the United States, apparently.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    I noticed that there were no English speakers working on a house being constructed near me. They turned out to be Brazilian. Having an interest in prices in that neighborhood, I stopped another time and met the builder. He was straight out of central casting with a black silk shirt, gold chains and a Maserati Quattroporte. I suspect he was also Brazilian, although I didn’t inquire about his “status”.

    I think Justin is correct ” A good numbers spun out of the job because it could be difficult and uncomfortable” I think most start in framing, on an ice cold morning when you need sledge hammers to break up lifts of frozen 2 bys, framing and sheathing can be very unappealing.

    “government licensing, regulating, and permitting processes” Having the afternoon off, I was replacing a little clapboard. Someone in a city car stopped to take pictures. I wonder if I will hear about that.

    Although it is common with machinists and mechanics to supply their own tools, I have wondered about that policy with younger carpenters. I suppose it does sort the wheat from the chaff and tools do disappear and cords are cut by the 1/2 dozen. It is hard to find a mechanic who does not have a running $1,500 balance with Snap On. Machinists can easily have $10,000 in tools, but they don’t have a Snap On to run a tab with. I have always thought this was a bargain for employers.

    I suppose that only experience can teach the nature of materials, but carpentry does require an elemental knowledge of Euclidean geometry which often seems to be lacking, and should be supplied, Just to show it is everywhere, I know a custom kitchen guy who has had his submissions stolen by architects and show up in design magazines.

    • OceanStateCurrent

      Some responses:

      1. Framing isn’t even the start. Labor is the start… carrying around lumber and knocking down walls. It can be fun, in its way, but it can also be a rough initiation. It was a great experience in human differentiation. Some of us really and truly enjoyed that phase of our careers, others not so much.
      2. The rules are nuts. I could run a construction crew, but because I haven’t filed paperwork and paid fees in a few years, I can’t even renovate my own rental property. (Correction: I can’t even let the town know I’m renovating my own rental property.)
      3. Like other things, the ownership of tools (and a work truck) is a differentiator. It all comes down to individual initiative. Investing in tools and a van not only enabled me to do my own side work, it rocketed me from laborer to foreman very quickly. Investment, calculation, and all that.
      4. My big break, in construction, came when I solved a foreman’s problem by explaining to him how to use ratios to find the intersection of two roofs with different pitches.

    • ShannonEntropy

      I noticed that there were no English speakers working on a house being constructed near me

      That is typical of construction projects, esp in LaProv. You even see signs at some sites that read “NO TRABAJO” i.e. ‘Not Hiring’

      I was replacing a little clapboard. Someone in a city car stopped to take pictures. I wonder if I will hear about that.

      When I was building a garage on my property, the City Tax Assessor showed up with a tape measure before I even had it wired