Commentary

How To Recruit Today's Teen Worker

The jobs report for July is in, and it confirms that the economy is still cooking. Employers added 157,000 more jobs, and unemployment is at a near-record low of 3.9%.

It’s a seller’s market for talent, and companies in some industries are finding it difficult to attract young, entry-level workers. One such industry is construction. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the share of young (under 25) construction workers has fallen by 30% since 2005.

Industry analysts are somewhat puzzled by this trend. Construction is an industry that pays well, requires little formal education, and is currently a hot sector as the housing market continues to recover. Analysts hypothesize that perhaps teens aren’t considering construction since many school districts cut vocational training during The Great Recession; parents are pushing their kids to get college degrees; teens are more interested in tech jobs; and the cost of living is high in the markets with the most construction jobs.

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Regardless of cause, this clog in the talent pipeline is not only affecting an entire industry, but causing other societal issues. With fewer people working in construction, labor costs are rising even higher, and fewer houses are getting built. This results in houses costing more and more, pricing more first-time buyers out of the market, and disproportionately affecting…  the young adults who won’t consider a job in construction. This further exacerbates income inequality, and perpetuates a vicious circle for the economy.

How can industries like construction continue to be relevant to the young workers of today and tomorrow?

*Connect the work to a higher purpose. Millennial workers want to do work with great personal and social meaning, with psychic rewards beyond a paycheck. Construction companies can remind teens that they’re building houses for families; helping people achieve The American Dream; providing safe and comfortable neighborhoods for families to raise their kids; and helping address a nationwide housing and homeless crisis.

Construction companies can also start and promote pro-social initiatives, such as partnering with Habitat for Humanity, and offering volunteer days to those who build or renovate houses for low-income residents.

*Sponsor vocational programs. These can be in-person programs that teach vocational skills such as construction, metalworking, electrical engineering, etc. But they can also be online courses that start with common, practical, everyday skills, and then progress to more complex professional skills.

Construction videos can begin with the basics on tools, what they do and how to use them; then how to build a table or a chair; then a doghouse or shed; and then, finally, a whole house. Gen Z in particular likes to learn practical skills at their own pace, so these videos can reach a lot of people; teach basic skills to many; and inspire a few to consider a career in that field.

*Summer internships and scholarships. Many teen workers gravitate toward jobs in the service industries at businesses  they frequent (restaurants, stores, movie theaters, etc.). Manufacturing companies should institute summer and semester-long internships; offer superior pay/learning benefits; promote them on social media; and highlight the resulting career opportunities and earning potential.

Also consider sponsoring college scholarships, especially for high school students planning to major in a related field; work-study programs that can help put college students through school; or programs where high school students can work for a few years, earn enough money to pay for college, and then pursue a degree full- or part-time. Make sure to include a path back to your company once they earn their degree.

With all of these approaches, construction and other non-tech industries can build a bridge to the workers they need most, and create a strong foundation for future growth.

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