Construction: The Employment Crisis (Almost) Nobody Talks About

Commercial development without skilled construction workers is a recipe for no development whatsoever. Yet the country’s educational system appears to be failing the construction industry – along with commercial real estate.

The system seems content to allow millions of students at for-profit colleges to be simply fleeced and abandoned, no more employable than they were before going into debt for their education. This is the for-profit education industry’s choice: a grab for the short-term, subsidized buck over the long-term benefit to the student and to the country.  Rather than orient itself toward trade education that actually meets the demands of the wider economy, the secondary educational system’s choice to turn away from the trades appears to have placed it on a direct collision course with the needs of the commercial development industry. Those needs are near all-time highs: the latest employment forecasts from the US Department of Labor say that the national need for these workers ranks higher than the needs for workers in all other categories save one (health care).

Annotated table showing construction job growth

Programs To Patch The Gap

Correcting the course isn’t going to be automatic, or even easy. Construction mogul Bill Gilbane’s piece in Commercial Observer highlights the gap between industry needs and trade education by talking up investing in programs that address high school students in the funnel for careers in construction and design. Gilbane sings the praises of the Ace Mentor Program, an afterschool program that brings high schoolers into careers in architecture, construction management, engineering and other disciplines.

Beyond programs like Ace, development and real estate firms have opportunities to address the issue on their own.  As Gilbane writes about his company’s internal efforts:

But we must still do more to bring young people onboard and keep them long term. In order to meet future demand, we need to develop the pool of workers in our industry now. Developing the skills of younger professionals helps create our leaders of the future.

That is why we launched a two-year Management Candidate Acceleration Program (MCAP). The MCAP program allows younger employees to gain first-hand experience in each department at Gilbane Building Company and once they’ve completed the program, participants are prepared to step up into those roles full time—and their paths often lead to project or executive management.

This is essential to ensuring current young professionals become our next generation of leaders. It also supports our long-term employees on a path to continuous improvement. By providing technical and educational programs, we help our staff learn new skills to support their current roles and develop their leadership abilities.

These educational and mentoring models — both external and internal — are worth looking at, throughout the commercial real estate and construction industries as the economy surges forward.  Let’s not let “business as usual” today serve to shut down huge business and employment opportunities in the future.

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