Are You Hiring Enough Youth?

December 2015

The U.S. Census Bureau has published new data that indicate the construction industry is not hiring enough young workers.
    
In October, Census Bureau economists Hubert Janicki and Erika McEntarfer posted an article on census.gov entitled, “Where Did All the Construction Workers Go?” They discuss new Census Bureau data—Job-to-Job Flows and Quarterly Workforce Indicators data—and draw the conclusion that construction firms have been short-sighted in their hiring practices.
    
“During the downturn,” Janicki and McEntarfer write, “construction firms hired fewer young workers, fewer young workers gained experience in the industry, and the share of older workers grew faster than in other industries.”

Fewer 19- to 24-Year-Olds
Skilled workers are hard to find, and much is beyond our control. Sixty percent of displaced construction workers either left the labor market or moved into other industries, Janicki and McEntarfer say.
    
They also conclude that construction company hiring preferences have shifted. Firms favor hiring older workers. The composition of hires into construction jobs by workers age 19 to 24 fell from a peak of 18 percent in 2006 to 13 percent of all hires in 2013. Thus, while the construction hiring of all other age groups showed modest declines after the economic downturn, 19 to 24 year-olds showed marked declines in hiring. This was not due to a decline in numbers of 19 to 24 year-olds available to work in construction. Rather, 19 to 24 year-olds found work in other industries.

Not Willing to Train?
Why would construction lose its share of young hires? Janicki and McEntarfer believe construction firms would rather hire older workers with experience than younger workers who need training.
    
“[It] could be unwillingness by construction companies to train relatively young workers relative to other industries in the economy,” Janicki and McEntarfer say.
    
Or, construction companies may just be in a scramble to fill positions with skilled workers, thinking this need is more immediate. Construction firms will say they plan to hire and develop young workers—but, it will have to come later.
    
For now, then, youth is being swapped for more seasoned workers. The 19 to 24 age group is being replaced with workers in the 45 to 55 age category, the data suggests. This means the percent of older workers in construction has become disproportionately high in comparison to other industries. By having hired fewer younger workers over the past decade, construction firms have undermined their very own talent development. In effect, Janicki and McEntarfer are suggesting—as I am suggesting—that construction is upside-down in developing its workforce.

Review the Data
What can you do about it? Start by doing your own review of the data. Job-to-Job Flows Beta release data and Quarterly Workforce Indicators data are available for download through the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics program at lehd.ces.census.gov/data/.
    
And I say support the Foundation of the Wall and Ceiling Industry. Download the July 2013 white paper, “Attracting Young People into Construction Field Positions,” and start implementing its recommendations. (It’s free from www.awci.org/thefoundation.shtml.) Attract young people. Do it quickly.

Mark L. Johnson, an industry marketing consultant, loves data analysis and making charts. He tweets at @markjohnsoncomm and connects at linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.