This column was originally published in the San Diego Transcript on Thursday, September 28, 2018.
America is in the midst of its most competitive market for employees in decades. Low rates of unemployment combined with robust business opportunities in many industries have created good job openings in many industries, including construction. One factor making it tougher for companies to hire good talent is the shift in attitude toward employee loyalty. After years of layoffs and difficult working conditions, individuals aren’t likely to put up with a job they don’t like for long. The rise of the so-called “gig economy” also plays a role.
Nowhere is this more acute than in the construction industry. There aren’t enough trained construction craft professionals to fill all of the openings currently available. The recession years caused many construction professionals to leave areas with high costs of living, including California. They haven’t returned. Meanwhile, our current workforce is heading quickly toward retirement.
Associated Builders and Contractors, including our San Diego Chapter, is doing what it can to recruit new construction workers and promote the many benefits of working in construction, including strong earning potential without the need to incur a large amount of college debt.
One of the greatest advantages to working in the construction industry has been overlooked. According to numerous employment surveys the past few years, blue collar professionals are the happiest and most optimistic in America. Construction professionals lead the way.
A 2018 Harris Poll found three out of four blue collar workers call their jobs “a good career path.” Four out of five agree “my job provides a good living to financially support my family.” Eighty-six percent are “satisfied” with their jobs. And 90 percent are “proud” of the work they do.
Two-thirds says they received a pay raise in 2017, and 70 percent agree “The American Dream is alive for people like me.”
Why do construction professionals feel this way? In a 2015 TINYpulse survey, the top three reasons named were the people they work with, the projects they get to work on, and the working environment at the construction site. Commented one participant, “I am very happy at work. I really like what I do, and I get to learn something new every day to improve what I do already. I enjoy my work and working with my coworkers.”
These findings keep being replicated in different surveys, including surveys conducted in Canada and Great Britain. One of the findings might get you thinking about your job: Three-quarters (76 percent) of construction workers like their jobs so much, they say they don’t ever feel on Sunday like they dread the thought of going to work on a Monday.
Speaking as someone whose construction company has hired hundreds if not thousands of employees during my 20-plus years in business in both the United States and Canada, these responses ring true to me. While I don’t have formal survey research to back me up, I can also point to the sense of pride and accomplishment construction workers feel as part of this sense of satisfaction.
Construction workers can see projects coming together every single day. They are part of a team putting their effort into a common goal. They get to see their work come to life, week after week. A building starts with a plan on paper, and then through the application of skills and effort, it comes to life. Their work then lives on in the form of homes, schools, hospitals, offices, roads, military bases, shops and businesses. It’s nearly impossible to replicate that feeling of pride when you are able to look at a finished project years later and say to your kids, “I built that.”
The single happiest profession? The surveys agree: plumbers are the happiest people in the U.S. Fifty five percent of plumbers say they are “very happy” in life, and not a single one surveyed said he or she was unhappy in their job. Plumbers rank high for healthy physical activity, and for the quality of their sleep.
The challenge we need to confront as an industry is to communicate these facts to our prospective workforce. The health of our industry depends on it. It’s our mission to communicate to high school educators, parents, career counselors, and the next generation to attract talented people who will keep the construction industry and our entire nation thriving.
The most unhappy employees work in advertising. We’ll refrain from commenting about what this means. But if any of them would like to join the ABC San Diego apprenticeship program, our doors are always open.
Walter Fritz is President and CEO of Nuera Group LP, and chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors San Diego board of directors. For more information visit www.abcsd.org