During the economic recession in 2009, the construction industry as a whole, and the masonry industry in particular, was hit extremely hard and many businesses shut their doors. However, during the past 7 years the masonry industry has seen steady growth, and while we are not yet back to our pre-2009 levels, business is steady and ever expanding. However, with this great news, we have also seen a major problem for the construction industry: the lack of a robust, qualified workforce.
Add this to the fact that the average construction worker is over 40 years of age and many are expected to be lost to retirement in the near future and we are looking at a bleak economic future. The masonry industry literally has thousands of jobs that we cannot fill due to a lack of qualified candidates. These jobs are not entry-level, minimum wage jobs, but rather high paying jobs that can start any where between $25,000 to $40,000 a year for a high school graduate. In just years, many of these new employees become managers and many go on to become business owners themselves.
The irony is that despite all these job opportunities, “millennials” make up about 40% of the nations unemployed. Many of these young men and women have a college education (well over 2 million university graduates enter the workforce each year). The vast majority of these workers have enormous debt from their years in education and the sad part is that many do not find work in the field of their training. Many graduates take jobs that require no secondary education and they struggle to earn enough money to pay off the debt of education and maintain a cost of living.
Unfortunately, throughout the years, career and technical education (CTE) programs have become stigmatized, funding has dried up, and parents, educators, and governments have ignored the important roles these jobs play in our country.
Currently, the House Education and Workforce Committee is drafting legislation to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Act and we are hoping that the Committee will address this stigma and take steps to ensure that CTE programs are receiving the support and reforms that are needed. Businesses like ours need the opportunity to approach local high schools and CTE programs to discuss with parents and students what opportunities exist in the industry and in our local businesses. Business engagement needs to be a priority in this reauthorization and we look forward to working with Congress, states, and local governments to make the Perkins Act as robust and successful as possible.
The building trades and especially masonry offer many advantages to young workers:
- Above average rate of pay
- Steady work – always in demand as worker shortage expected long term
- Rewarding work – pride in visible accomplishment
- Benefits such as healthcare and retirement funds
- Variety – not the same old office everyday
What we need to do moving forward:
- Reauthorization of the Perkins Act
- Incentives for high schools that participate in vocational programs
- Educate parents and the public on the benefits of a career in masonry
- Put an end to the stigma associated with vocational schools and their students