Four Steps to Help the Construction Industry Build a Better Image

A comprehensive report on construction workers in the Greater Toronto Area revealed high levels of job satisfaction and fulfillment. Despite these positives, however, there appears to be a lasting stigma around careers in the construction industry that can hinder the recruitment and retention of workers.

In the article “Rebuilding the Construction Industry as a Career Destination,” from the November/December 2019 issue of Plans & Trusts, Jon Callegher, Ph.D., provides potential solutions to highlight the good while addressing the stigma. Steps include integrating construction into the education system, investing in media production, recruiting workers through networking and mobilizing stakeholders to address retention.

Four Steps to Help the Construction Industry Build a Better Image

The Good

The report, Retaining Employees in the Skilled Trades, revealed that construction industry workers enjoy their sense of work-life balance, daily achievement, job security, job mobility and constant learning opportunities. More than three in five (65%) workers would strongly recommend their job to a young person.

Callegher, executive director of Job Talks and a professor at George Brown College in Toronto, Ontario, said the report also brings empirical data to long-held claims by construction industry advocates—namely, that construction career opportunities are widespread and that job satisfaction is high. In fact, construction industry workers are far less likely to feel unhappy compared with the rest of working Canadians.

Following are some of the reasons construction workers said they feel satisfied and fulfilled.

  • Wages and benefits are excellent.
  • The work challenges both body and mind.
  • They are always learning.
  • They find their work stimulating.
  • They do something good and useful on a daily basis.
  • They enjoy the camaraderie of the workplace and jobsite.

The Bad

The construction industry still has a stigma of being a tough and dirty profession with low status, said Callegher, who presented the session “Construction Trades: Exposing the Labour Market’s Best-Kept Secret” at the 52nd Annual Canadian Employee Benefits Conference in San Francisco, California.

Institute for Apprenticeship, Training and Education Programs

This stigma is often perpetuated by parents and educators. Only 8% of construction workers said they were influenced to enter the industry by a guidance counselor. Nearly 70% of respondents believe that there is a shortage of construction workers, and 96% attribute those shortages to stigma and negative parental influence.

Despite the benefits of working in an industry with well-paying, skilled careers, it still concerns workers that people on the outside think of them and their career choice as low status, Callegher said.

Four Steps to Address These Challenges

Callegher wrote that addressing the stigma involves aligning construction industry stakeholders around messaging, retention and recruitment strategies through the following four steps.

1. Integrate construction early in the education system.

Integrating construction careers into elementary school can help to shape the perceptions of students, teachers, guidance counselors and parents. This includes weaving construction industry themes into the school curriculum, bringing back shop class and promoting construction careers to all students.

2. Invest in high-quality media production.

High-quality video programming and websites can be used in schools and training centers to reduce the steps between discovering a new construction career and getting started in the industry.

3. Leverage the industry’s massive network in recruitment.

The construction industry’s network is among the largest in the country. Building suppliers, owners, accountants, lawyers, architects, salespeople, contracts managers, engineers, building officials and others can communicate the opportunities for varied and fulfilling careers.

4. Mobilize companies and associations to address retention.

Construction industry stakeholders should address key issues related to retaining good workers, including formalizing and articulating career pathways; improving on-site conditions, especially in the winter; investigating more opportunities for skills development, training and upgrading; creating community in the voluntary trades; helping workers plan for the reality of seasonal work; and improving communication and transparency around the scheduling of work.

[Related: Apprenticeship Resources]

Talking Positively About Construction

Callegher suggests that the time is ripe to confront the stigma and talk positively about careers in construction. “This means investing in clear messaging to enhance the perception of the construction industry,” he writes. “It means mobilizing evidence that happiness at work is strongly correlated with using your hands, body and mind. And it means properly and consistently informing boys and girls, parents and educators of the incredible variety of fulfilling careers in construction and the extraordinary benefits they can bring.”

Robbie Hartman, CEBS

Robbie Hartman, CEBS
Editor, Publications, for the International Foundation

Portfolio Concepts and Management

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