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Developing the next generation of tradespeople has been a long-standing issue facing the construction industry. As baby boomers head into retirement, the need for new workers will only increase. While it may seem like millennials were the group everyone was trying to recruit, many are now well into their 30s with established careers. Construction workforce development needs to set its sights on the next group, Generation Z.

Defined as those individuals under the age of 25, Gen Z is just graduating high school or college and looking at their career options. To meet the growing demand of the industry, construction will need to break old stereotypes of the profession, as well as appeal to this group’s desire: a career they can grow into, without accumulating debt, that offers the chance to give back to their communities.

One of the biggest hurdles for bringing younger people into construction remains the perception of the industry. When most people think of construction, they still think of menial, back-breaking labor on dirty and possibly unsafe jobsites. Many don’t understand how today’s industry has evolved with technology, safety and unparalleled skill—traits that appeal to Gen Z. They are digital natives, having never lived in a world without the internet and smartphones, so they tend to adapt to new technology easily. But to get Gen Z interested, the industry needs to show how much construction has changed and the integral role technology now plays in the day-to-day work. With high-tech equipment like GPS and VR being commonplace on most construction sites, it’s often the younger team members showing the old guard how to operate it.

Gen Z also grew up with STEM as a major focus of their education. The skills they learned in science, tech and math classes are the same ones they’ll need working in construction. Gen Z is attracted to the technology on the job and the opportunity for their knowledge to be valued, but that’s only the beginning. There are many more aspects they’re seeking in a career.

Growing up during a recession and now a pandemic, most of Gen Z is searching for a sense of stability. They want to go into a field that’s forecasted for long-term financial security. Having watched their parents struggle to pay off student loans, many in this generation are not interested in a traditional college education and the debt that goes with it. Unfortunately, those same parents are often pushing their kids to enroll in college, because they don’t see work in the trades as a stable option. Just as construction needs to appeal to Gen Z, it also needs to appeal to their parents.

Construction can highlight its opportunities for good paying jobs with strong benefits—and without the college debt—as a way to bring Gen Z into the fold. They can train on the job through apprenticeship programs, learning directly from trained tradespeople in the field and can “earn while they learn.” Following completion of these programs, they can go to work as fully trained journeyperson earning a competitive wage complete with health care and retirement benefits. Construction also offers many opportunities for advancement in the field, providing a clear path for their futures.

The construction industry was deemed “essential” during COVID-19 shutdowns, and the world saw construction workers continue to go to work every day. Having watched so many businesses cut jobs and struggle to reopen, Gen Z has a new perspective on the “essential” careers that truly offer stability and value.

What sets Gen Z apart from previous generations is how socially conscious they are. This group is looking for ways to feel like they are making a difference and creating positive change in the world. They want to work for companies that share this goal and their values. Businesses should highlight their corporate social responsibility programs, such as volunteering with local organizations, as a recruiting tool. Construction offers Gen Z the opportunity to actually be part of the solution, by helping to build and renovate their communities, feeding their need to make a change for the better.

To reach this group where they are, social media is a great tool companies can use to showcase not only their work, but how they engage with the community through volunteering. Trade associations at the local level should be actively recruiting early on to grow interest in the profession. By reaching out to high schools and trade schools, the industry can show what today’s construction work looks like and encourage students to consider it as a career.

The construction industry will need Gen Z to fill the workforce gap in the coming years. Luckily, construction checks off many of the requirements this generation is looking for in a career. By appealing to their desire for well-paying, tech-savvy jobs that give back to the community, this group will become a force in the field.

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