Opinion—Labor shortages are keeping construction companies from expanding

Aug 30, 2018

By Don Wallis


Young people do not find construction work attractive

The construction industry has traditionally been attractive to young people, especially those who not have a college degree, do not want to punch a time clock, but do want to work with their hands outdoors. This is no longer the case.

High school guidance counsellors urge students to acquire computer skills and/ or go to college because these career paths are perceived as the best paths to higher income.

There is, of course, merit to this advice. But what guidance counsellors often don’t realize is that the construction industry offers those who enjoy the work and have the requisite mechanical aptitude, excellent, and in some cases, exceptional pay.

That does not change the fact that our industry is finding it increasingly difficult to recruit young people. An article in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL by Laura Kusisto states that “the share of [construction] workers in the sector age 24 or younger has declined since the last housing boom in 2005, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by Issi Romen, chief economist at construction data firm, BuildZoom.”

Part of the problem is that starting wages are lower than those in the tech industry. Wages increase as workers become trained and more valuable to their employers. But this takes time and, for employers, money. This is especially true in residential construction. “Builders say that rising land, material and regulatory costs are already squeezing their margins , and if they pay workers more it will raise the price of homes beyond what many people can afford.”

Ms. Kusisto does not offer a solution for this situation. It appears the only remedy may be that, assuming the overall economy and construction continue to expand, young people, their parents and guidance counsellors will realize that the building industry offers long-term careers where wages increase slowly but steadily; that construction offers middle class incomes for people willing to learn their trades.


Youths Shrug at Construction Jobs, Laura Kusisto, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, August 1, 2018.


Don Wallis has more than 40 years experience in residential and commercial construction, and land development. He also has a law degree and currently teaches Environmental Law at Santa Fe Community College.