Who will be the next generation of home builders, housing industry leaders, and skilled tradespersons? In an industry that boasts many family-owned, multigeneration businesses, it might seem like the answer to that question sits across from you at the dinner table every evening.
The reality, of course, is more complex. An aging (should I say maturing?) professional workforce and worsening labor shortages in our industry make it clear that we must encourage a new generation of builders and entrepreneurs as well as skilled tradespersons to seek and prepare for careers in home building. The median age of NAHB’s builder members is 56. Moreover, a recent NAHB economic report found that 41 percent of builders are facing labor shortages, up from 28 percent last year and 20 percent in 2012.
To address the labor shortage, NAHB partners with the HBI (Home Builders Institute) on workforce development. A leader in preparing people for careers in the building trades, HBI offers job training, placement, mentoring, and certification programs to young people, veterans, displaced workers, disadvantaged youth, and other underserved populations. HBI programs are taught in more than 200 locations nationwide and have a job placement rate of more than 80 percent for graduates in programs such as carpentry, brick masonry, HVAC, plumbing, painting, and electrical wiring.
NAHB also works with Congress to ensure that policy and legislation reflect the need to train young people for construction jobs. We were pleased when Congress enacted the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in July. Among other things, the law reauthorizes Job Corps and Youthbuild, federal training programs operated through the Department of Labor. Because foreign-born workers make up a large percentage of the construction labor force in some areas, we also are work closely with Congress to ensure that any immigration legislation enacted provides for guest workers in our industry.
There’s also a growing realization among millennials that a college degree—at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars of long-term debt—is not the only path to a well-paid, fulfilling career. American students and graduates now owe more than $1 trillion in aggregate debt, and 25–34 year olds saw a 9 percent decline in income growth from 2007–2012. It stands to reason that getting more young people into the construction and building workforce could help them stand on firmer economic ground and help establish the leadership base that will guide our association in the future.
For those who do opt for college, the National Housing Endowment, NAHB’s charitable arm, supports residential construction management programs through its signature HELP Initiative. The Homebuilding Education Leadership Program awards major grants to colleges and universities to help them create, expand, or refocus existing programs toward residential construction management. The endowment also supports construction education through its scholarship program.
We can bolster these programs through cooperative efforts with other construction-related groups that share our goals and by supporting the construction management programs at local colleges and universities. It’s also important to advise and serve as advocates for construction trades programs at local high schools. In many areas, such programs have been cut back or eliminated to the detriment of our industry and young people who might thrive in the trades.
Another way to contribute to building tomorrow’s association leadership is by supporting and participating in the NAHB Student Chapters program. Now a part of 114 HBAs nationwide, the program helps prepare high school and college students for careers in housing through NAHB membership, education, and networking opportunities. Students network with veteran builders, gain access to NAHB staff professionals, develop strong peer relationships, and explore various aspects of the home building industry.