According to Bureau of Labor Statistics August 2017 figures, nearly seven million people nationwide work in the construction industry across over 720,000 construction companies. The construction industry is a significant driver of the United States economy and is one of the largest customers for manufacturing, mining and a variety of services. A George Mason University study for the Associated General Contractors of America found that an extra $1 billion in nonresidential construction spending adds $3.4 billion to GDP, $1.1 billion to personal earnings, and creates/sustains 28,500 jobs. Despite this, myths continue to surround who works in the industry and what a career in construction looks like. Here, we’ve rounded up – and debunked – some of the top myths.
Myth #1 – Anyone Can Work in Construction
One of the most common misconceptions is the idea that anyone can walk onto a jobsite and begin working – no college education or training required. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Everyone who works in the commercial construction industry, including more entry-level general laborers, must complete the OSHA-regulated 10 hours of training at minimum. Working in construction requires skill, tenacity, and a willingness to work in extreme conditions and with diverse workers and trades. Construction is a fast-paced industry, and not everyone is cut out for it.
Myth #2 – Women Don’t Work Construction Jobs
Though it’s true that construction sites are dominated by men – women make up 47% of the workforce but only 9% of the construction industry – that is quickly changing. The skilled labor shortage is forcing contractors to recruit and attract traditionally underrepresented populations within the industry, including women.
This trend can be seen in the growth of organizations geared at helping women find, train, and navigate a career in the trades. According to a 2016 Boston Globe article, organizations are increasingly focused on increasing the representation of low-income, minority women in the trades, largely due to the fact that for women without college degrees, few careers offer better wages and benefits. In Boston, construction workers earn an average of $63,000 per year. The New England-based Policy Group of Tradeswomen’s Issues (PGTI) aims to have women account for 20% of the construction workforce by 2020. And recently, Hitt Contracting named Kim Roy CEO, the only female CEO to lead an ENR Top 100 contractor.
Myth #3 – Construction Lacks Opportunities for Career Advancement
While students have been led to equate success with a four-year college degree, this is not the case. College graduates today often graduate with tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Additionally, a recent Harvard study found that only about 33% of available jobs in 2018 will require college degrees versus 57% of jobs that require a technical or two-year degree. The idea that there isn’t advancement – or money – in construction simply isn’t true. In fact, an electrician in 2015 earned $5,000 more in a year than the average college graduate.
While there are people who have worked as general laborers in the construction field for decades, and happily so, there are plenty of others who advance rapidly. And there are plenty of opportunities to advance. Someone who starts out as an apprentice or general laborer may quickly work his or her way up to a management position, and companies are increasingly development management “tracks” to encourage – and mentor – workers who want to transition from the field to the back office.
As a result, more college students are beginning to consider a career in the trades. A recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse found that major and class enrollment in construction trades rose 26.4% in the spring of 2017, a significant increase from the year before and a larger jump than any other line of study at traditional four-year colleges.
Myth #4 – Construction is an Outdated Industry
There has been a lot of attention on the reluctance of construction companies to invest in and adopt technology – and rightly so. But while construction remains one of the least digitized U.S. industries, it’s important to acknowledge and highlight the explosion of construction companies adopting jobsite technologies such as wearables, IoT-enabled sensors, AI/machine learning, and BIM. $10 billion was invested in construction technology companies between 2011 and 2017 – a staggering statistic – as contractors recognized the potential of tech to automate processes, eliminate waste, and improve productivity. (As is often cited, McKinsey estimates that digitization could boost the industry’s global output by $1.6 trillion.)
Companies like Boston-based Suffolk, for example, are embracing innovation company-wide with “Smart Labs” that are focused solely on identifying, researching, and piloting emerging technologies. With formal tech strategies in place, Suffolk sets itself up for integrated national rollouts and long-term digital success.
As more intelligent safety and productivity solutions hit the market, and early adopters realize financial gains, more and more contractors will adopt jobsite technologies, presenting significant opportunities for career advancement and increased profitability. Particularly amidst the skilled labor shortage, contractors are looking for capable, passionate individuals, and they are attracting them with increased wages, flexibility and benefits and increased investment in workforce development.