To solve the labor shortage, train workers and offer careers

Millennials need to see construction is more than hard labor

At US Builders Review we often hear two complaints. First, those in the construction industry lament that there is a shortage of good, skilled workers. Second, many have a “kids these days” attitude toward millennial workers, who, they say, just don’t want to work hard.

One organization, YouthBuild USA, has a unique perspective on these issues, and as a result, it has advice for construction companies looking to hire. The key, it says, is providing meaningful careers and offering continued training to young workers.

Started in 1978, the YouthBuild program offers low-income young people, many of whom have dropped out of high school, a chance to earn their high school diploma while working to build affordable housing or other community assets.

Started in 1978, the YouthBuild program offers low-income young people, many of whom have dropped out of high school, a chance to earn their high school diploma while working to build affordable housing or other community assets.

Since 2006, the federal YouthBuild program has been administered by the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, and it is currently authorized through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act, which aims to connect job seekers with employment, education, training and support and to match employers with skilled workers. Today there are 250 local YouthBuild programs in 45 states, serving 9,000 young people annually.

“We recognize that there’s a labor shortage, and we have a reservoir of talent that’s available to work, but not just for jobs, for careers,” says Daryl Wright, YouthBuild USA’s vice president for employer partnerships.

More than hard labor

It’s not that young people don’t want to work, Wright says. It’s that they want to see pathways for meaningful careers.

By the time students graduate YouthBuild, they have their high school diploma or its equivalent, hands-on construction training and experience, OSHA 10 safety certification, as well as leadership training. Some, but not all, graduates opt for construction-related jobs.

“Construction has just got a bad image,” say Lanier Spriggs, who after graduating from YouthBuild Chattanooga received scholarship funding from the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America to complete a construction management degree at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

“You think of construction as just hard labor. You don’t really think about all that goes in to the backend or before the construction even hits, and then there are so many avenues … you can go down,” Spriggs says.

Today he’s a project manager for a minority-run general contractor, O’Neill Construction Group in Portland, Oregon, that is currently building, among other things, an apartment complex for homeless veterans.

“To a certain extent, we’re focusing as a society on sending our kids to college,” says Boudewijn van Lent, CEO and president of Bilfinger Industrial Services, which upgrades and maintains manufacturing facilities. “Some kids are actually much better in [construction] work. They love to do it, but instead we put them behind a desk, so we have to, as a nation, somehow get our kids to see these are great jobs.”

Young talent needs more training

One way to introduce young workers to construction is to provide training.

“In our experience, with some preparation and with some exposure to the industry, young people are really on fire,” Wright says. “They really want to do this work.”

Forward-thinking companies are starting to catch on. Fernandes Masonry, for instance, has been sending workers through a state-run apprenticeship program in Massachusetts. It’s been doing that for 10 years, and it finds that most apprentices continue to work for the company long after. Another company, HB McClure, has launched HB University to provide all of its employees with 24 hours of training each year. And in Canada, Atlantic Roofers launched a mentorship program to bridge the generational divide between young and old crew members.

“Unfortunately, everywhere I’ve been it’s been just sink or swim, trial by fire, you can do it or you can’t,” Spriggs says. “There’s never been any formal training.”

Portland Youth Builders

The response from construction companies, he says, is that the field is so fast paced there’s no time for training. But, as Spriggs says, “If you want to create a great employee and a long-term employee, training is necessary.”

Two California-based companies—West Coast Framing Inc., a framing contractor that specializes in large-scale and multi-family construction projects, and Hathaway Dwindle, a general contracting and project management firm—are among the most recent companies to hire YouthBuild graduates. West Coast Framing hired two as interns, and Hathaway Dwindle helped connect YouthBuild graduates with sub-contractors in need of skilled labor.

Mentoring a diverse workforce

In addition to the labor shortage, contractors face pressure to diversify their labor pool. Training and, more specifically, mentorship can help there, too.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the construction industry is 63 percent white, 29 percent Hispanic or Latino, just six percent black and two percent Asian. Only nine percent of construction industry employees are women.

In many states, construction projects receiving state funding must employ a minimum number of minority workers or contractors. Infrastructure projects that receive federal funding through the U.S. Department of Transportation must meet certain disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) requirements. Still, Wright says, some contractors hire young workers from underrepresented groups and DBEs just to “check the box.”

“I actually think that is a missed opportunity for contractors because while it meets the short term goals on a particular project, you’re losing sight of a long-term goal of building a skilled workforce in the industry,” he says.

Twenty or 30 years ago mentoring was a natural part of the industry, mainly because it was provided informally through kinship networks of family and friends, Wright says. Those structures are inherently biased, though. In December 2016, a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency found that 86 percent of minority-owned business enterprises (MBEs) struggle with networking barriers.

“Bringing in a diverse workforce also means being very intentional about the type of mentoring younger workers [receive],” Wright says.

Investing in infrastructure and those who build it

Addressing the labor shortage and training young workers of all backgrounds is going to become increasingly important in the coming years, especially if President Trump is able to fulfill his campaign promises to vastly increase investment in the nation’s infrastructure.

“We in the U.S. have a shortage of people who can do things,” van Lent says. “And, so, [Bilfinger has] some programs to develop our craft, so we’re certainly trying to do our part, but it is a nationwide problem, and if some of the ideas of our new president come about and we invest in infrastructure and some other industries, then that problem is only going to get bigger.”

At the same time, the budget President Trump proposed in March 2017 would cut as much as $2.5 billion from the U.S. Department of Labor, which administers programs like YouthBuild. While YouthBuild’s funding hasn’t been cut to date, Wright says those larger budget cuts will likely have a downstream effect on the organization.

The cuts would also drastically reduce funding for AmeriCorps, a partner organization that funds 3,200 YouthBuild students annually.

The future is always unclear, but as Wright says, “It’s in all our interest to begin providing these longer-term career pathways for younger workers.”


My experience with US Builders Review was positive from start to finish. The staff conducted each interaction with the utmost professionalism, whether over the phone or by email. Beginning with the initial telephone interview US Builders Review carefully gathered information to form a draft document then incorporated my minimal edits required to achieve factual accuracy in the finished article. US Builders Review is a pleasure to work with.
— Tim Craddock, President, Vansant & Gusler Inc.
Everyone that we worked with was polite, professional, responsive & very good to work with. It was amazing to see the ideas transformed into the final product. We are very happy with the end results and would not hesitate to work with them in the future or recommend them to other business!
— James Kowalski, Owner, Kowalski Construction Inc.
Professional with attention to customer’s needs. Well prepared vision for article while open to suggestions. Provided plenty feedback and review prior to final draft. Thanks in advance for the assistance and promotion of our organization!
— Jason Lee, LEED AP O+M, Director of Sustainability and Optimization for Harvard Maintenance
I would like to commend the US Builders Review staff for their work in developing and writing a fantastic article for Miller Contracting Group, Inc. It was truly a pleasure to work with their professional and well organized staff.
— Chuck Daniels, Business Manager, Miller Contracting Group Inc.
The process was simple: we were provided questions that the writers wanted to discuss, we were interviewed, and then we got to see a few drafts before the final version went to print. Given the quality of this publication, on behalf of Giroux, I can assure everyone that all of my partners would be happy to participate in similar articles in the future.
— Barbara Kotsos, Director of Marketing & PR, Giroux Glass
It was an absolute pleasure to work with the writers and editorial team at TrueLine Publishing for our recent article in US Builders Review. From the start of the project, it was apparent that everyone involved was very concerned with accuracy and getting the facts right. They were also very conscientious about soliciting our feedback and ensuring that we were happy with the content and with the manner in which Giroux Glass was described in the finalized piece.
— Barbara Kotsos, Director of Marketing & PR, Giroux Glass
Working with Kyle at TrueLine Publishing was a great experience. We are quite pleased with how the article about Souder Brothers turned out. The magazine article and photo spread is going to be a very effective tool to use in our marketing. If you have the opportunity to be featured in a project like this, I would recommend doing it. Kyle and his team made the whole process very smooth and we are happy to have been a part of the latest edition of US Builders Review.
— Corinne Schaffer, Project Manager, Souder Brothers Construction
I would like to commend the US Builders Review staff for their work in developing and writing a fantastic article for Miller Contracting Group, Inc. It was truly a pleasure to work with their professional and well organized staff.
— Chuck Daniels, Business Manager, Miller Contracting Group Inc.
I’m blown away with the value that could come out of our partnership through this article. Working with the US Builders Review team is something that I have never experienced before and every day I feel even more privileged to be with EJH Construction, I never take for granted the opportunities that have come my way.  I am so excited about what our future looks like based on the relationship that has been built with the US Builders Review team.
Jennifer Wilhelmsen – Director of Human Resources, EJH Construction Inc.
Ryan at TrueLine was a pleasure to work with and we wouldn't hesitate to recommend him or TrueLine to anyone in the future. They were professional, organized and great to work with through the process!
— James Cahill, President and Partner, J. Calnan & Associates


Spring 2018



  • * We’ll never share your email or info with anyone.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.