In 2019, the median age of construction workers was 41, according to a National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) analysis of the most recent American Community Survey data. While that is the same age as a typical worker in the national labor force, it presents a unique challenge to an industry that has long struggled to compete for young talent that may be lured into other types of professions, experts say.
The median age of construction workers varies across the states, according to the NAHB analysis. The state with the oldest median age of construction workers (47) is Maine, followed by New Hampshire (46) and West Virginia (45). On average, construction workers are younger in the central part of the United States. In North Dakota and Alaska, half of all construction workers are under 36, while in Oklahoma and Utah, half are under 38.
The trade association also analyzed median age by occupations. As expected, construction occupations with younger workers include helpers, construction trades and solar photovoltaic installs. Older workers are concentrated in managerial positions such as inspectors, supervisors and managers.
Construction, by its very nature, has to rely mainly on humans to perform a great deal of work, making the labor shortage especially acute, according to Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs and strategic initiatives at the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).
“While there have been significant advances in technology, it’s still pretty heavily reliant on actual workers to perform, to build projects, to do the work,” Turmail told Construction Dive. “And when you have so many people about to age out of the workforce, you want to make sure that you're recruiting and bringing new people.”
In March, AGC launched its Construction Is Essential Workforce Campaign, conceived in part due to how the industry was impacted by COVID-19.
“The coronavirus and related economic lockdowns has led to significant changes in the labor market compared to pre-pandemic times,” the association wrote on the campaign website.
The construction industry, for example, cut nearly 1 million people from its payrolls between March and April 2020, and only hired back about 40% of those workers in May and June 2020. Meanwhile, more than 30 million Americans have lost their jobs during the second quarter of 2021.
“The new labor dynamic has created a unique opportunity for the industry to attract a significant portion of the newly unemployed into high-paying construction careers,” the AGC wrote.
With financing from the Construction Advocacy Fund, the marketing campaign reminds people that the industry was deemed essential during the pandemic shutdowns, and that construction careers are more likely to be protected from future economic shutdowns than current ones.