Where Have All the Workers Gone

Where Have All the Workers Gone”

Since November, 2021, Congress has passed three massive spending bills intended to pump large sums of money into the U.S. economy, much of it into the industrial sector addressing infrastructure, semiconductor manufacturing and green energy projects. Yet, many projects are delayed. The cause, according to a recent report by McKinsey & Company and others, is that a labor crunch threatens to derail plans to upgrade the U.S. infrastructure. Everyone seems to be asking the same question: “Where have all the workers gone?”

If you have ever hired a licensed electrician or plumber for your home project or repair, you have probably stared at their final bill for some time. Yet, there were 457,000+ construction job openings at the end of October? What happened to the excitement created by that iconic picture, “Lunch atop a Skyscraper”, picturing hard hat workers sitting on a girder over Rockefeller Center, 850 ft. over the streets of New York. Simply put, the construction industry simply does not turn young people on!  Generation Z does not see construction as a “career path”.

Construction is not seen as “sexy” to the younger people entering the workforce. They do not see worksites as dynamic, but as a place where working conditions can be physically demanding and pose a risk of injury. Some may now look upon working in the trades as manual labor with low pay. What is not seen, unfortunately, are the potential benefits of a position in construction, such as …

  • Stability: Construction jobs were considered as “Essential” during the Covid pandemic.
  • Job Security: Skilled craftsmen and project managers are ageing; higher paying positions constantly need to be filled.
  • Travel: Many construction positions offer time in new locations, with travel expenses paid!
  • Excitement: Unlike office positions, construction offers new challenges on almost a daily basis.
  • Personally Rewarding: Construction is meaningful as you can see the fruits of your labor; bricks become walls, steel becomes a factory frame and piping brings natural gas to our homes.

Following Covid, many older construction professionals reevaluated their priorities and left the workforce. By March of 2022, the quit rate for construction reached a 17 year high and now one in five construction workers are older than 55. This presents a young person with tremendous opportunities for upward mobility and increasing incomes.

As a union contractor and a signatory with the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters, Dixie craftsmen have had skills training and workforce development, thus increasing productivity and jobsite safety. Through their “Capturing Better Futures Initiative”, the U.A. is presently working with high schools, updating classrooms and training the next generation of skilled craftsmen and women.

Though worker scarcity will remain an issue for the near term, the U.A. and its member contractors are taking positive steps to meet the manpower challenge, rehabilitate our infrastructure and bring our country new energy resources.

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