There’s an ominous cloud hovering over the housing and remodeling markets, and it’s not tied solely to supply chain disruptions, housing shortages, rising interest rates and other inflationary pressures – as if those headwinds aren’t vexing enough.
Indeed, while demand continues to be robust, and record-high renovation activity is projected to grow into 2023, a chronic shortage of skilled labor is increasingly emerging as a major obstacle to sustained market growth, with kitchen and bath design firms among those feeling the pinch (see related story).
While workforce shortages are hardly unprecedented in the residential construction trade, the current dearth of skilled labor – exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19 and other societal factors – is seemingly reaching crisis proportions, with a growing number of home builders and remodeling firms running the risk of being unable to attract and retain enough talent to keep pace with projected demand. This burgeoning dilemma is already wreaking havoc on construction timelines, while increasing costs, stretching work crews thin, and forcing some consumers to postpone or cancel home purchases and remodeling projects.
Worse yet, the problem is threatening to become even more acute.
According to estimates, in fact, the residential construction industry will need to hire and train a staggering 2.2 million carpenters, framers, electricians, plumbers and other skilled tradesmen within the next three years, in order to meet anticipated housing demand – a daunting task, given demographic trends, workplace issues and the mindset of many current and future workers.
Surveys of high school students, for example, have revealed a negative stigma tied to careers in the skilled trades, with students citing physically demanding work and relatively low pay as among the obstacles to pursuing a construction career. Other surveys point to a younger generation that simply lacks the knowledge, technical skills and opportunities to take advantage of available jobs – and still others who’ve long been encouraged to pursue college-oriented job paths instead of alternative pathways toward skilled-trades careers.
Exacerbating these issues is the fact that the collective mindset of America’s workforce has changed dramatically in recent years, with a series of pandemic-related trends – from remote work and the rise of the gig economy to the advent new of technology and the emergence of the “Great Resignation” – resulting in significant changes in the relationship between companies and employees.
Fittingly, the growing labor crisis is drawing the attention of industry leaders, a growing number of whom have issued a call for companies, trade associations, educational institutions and other industry stakeholders to expedite efforts at recruiting talent and developing curriculum, certification, mentoring, internship programs and job placement services, while increasing compensation, diversity and productivity in the building trades.
Several key efforts are already underway on that front. The NKBA’s NextUp initiative, for example, is an outreach program aimed at educating and providing experience to young people seeking careers in the kitchen and bath industry. The Skilled Labor Fund – a collaboration between the NKBA, the NAHB, NARI and the National Housing Endowment – is another effort aimed at recruiting the next generation of skilled housing workers. In October, NAHB celebrates Careers in Construction Month, to increase awareness about the career paths available in residential construction, while the National Housing Endowment has unveiled a series of funding options to help address educational needs in the construction trades.
While these efforts are commendable, clearly more is needed to mitigate the gap between demand and the current supply of workers. Collaboration across all sectors of the housing and remodeling trades is essential to change entrenched perceptions of careers in construction, and to establish best-practice guidelines, so that levels of worker engagement and employee retention can be improved. Investments aimed at attracting, hiring and training residential construction talent must be matched by investments in engaging, upskilling and retaining employees. Similar efforts need to be implemented to recruit and train more women, minorities and military vets, as well as lower-income and second-chance adults. Companies also need to spur gains in workforce productivity, by investing in training, technology and human resources.
Now is the time to raise awareness about potentially fulfilling careers in the residential construction trades. With the current labor shortage reaching a potentially critical level, it’s essential to act before it’s too late. ▪