Bill Darcy, Chief Executive Officer of the National Kitchen & Bath Association
Michael Levy Bill Darcy, Chief Executive Officer of the National Kitchen & Bath Association

The need for construction labor is near an all-time high. The industry's lack of qualified labor has created uncertainty for the nation's builders, and spurred concerns about price increases and building schedules.

At Design & Construction Week 2018, held January 9-11 in Orlando, Fla., BUILDER talked with Bill Darcy, CEO of the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), who discussed the current labor challenge, and how the industry can attract young people to trade jobs.

The construction industry is facing a labor crisis. How is this impacting the kitchen and bath sector?
We’ve been concerned about this problem for some time, and it's a challenge that we are working to solve. Labor shortages make costs go up and projects more expensive. We have skilled carpenters and people that have cabinetry expertise for example, but if you cant wire or plumb your kitchen, you don't have a kitchen.

What are some of the things the NKBA is doing to tackle the labor shortage?
We are doing a lot to support this initiative and make people aware of the imminent crisis. There needs to be a lot of muscle and momentum behind this movement, and the NKBA is obviously not going to solve things on our own. So, we've been working with a number of other organizations, like the NAHB and National Housing Endowment, on a skilled labor fund, and we've been working with the This Old House Generation Next campaign, and other mentorship programs and scholarship funds.

Why do you think young people don't want to enter the industry, and how can we attract them to the trades?
I think its an awareness problem for some. People want lifelong careers, but when you're asked as a teenager what you want to do with your life, many people don't know. Education is important, so we need to dedicate resources to promoting the trades in schools among students. It's also a stereotype problem for others. People say 'do I really want to be a plumber? No.' But when you make it cool, and they see a job where maybe it's a plumbing company that engineers products with robotics, for example, then they're interested. So it’s a matter of making the trades cool. That can be really difficult in the school system, so there is definitely more education to be done with both young people and parents. We still need to start with the young people and make them tell mom and dad, 'this is a job I want'. There are things like infographics and studies we can present to the parents that will make them see their child will have a lucrative, successful life if they pursue a trade career.

The NKBA just launched a new, redesigned website? What are the features, and how do you expect it to help young professionals entering the industry?
The future of the industry is the millennials, so we need to be looked at as a forward-minded and technology-focused industry. Our new website builds a digital community and gives people entering the industry a digital footprint so they can be more successful. It works like a Facebook or Linked In profile, where you have business information, project photos, contact info, links to social media, etc. It's hard for young people to start out and gain scale, so these profiles allow them to upload their work--even as a student and even if they don't have a website--and create a presence online. Our job is to drive business leads to our members, so giving young people a digital footprint is a good start to letting them know they can have a successful career. We are also launching a career center, which we think of more as an opportunity center for people looking for just about anything--internships, mentors, jobs, projects, other work. We’re looking at all aspects of what happens online to connect people who are seeking something.

What's something that you think builders should know in order to be successful in the market right now?
Builders should work with kitchen and bath designers. That part of the home can be a very complicated area, and we want the consumer to have the best experience when buying a home. We encourage the building community to seek out a designer to work collaboratively with them on a kitchen or bath project to fulfill the consumer's desire.