One of the most prominent issues facing the construction industry today is the construction labor shortage, which makes it difficult for construction companies to fill open positions for skilled laborers and finish projects as quickly as they’d like.

A recent survey showed 80 percent of construction companies are having difficulties locating skilled labor. Between 2006 and 2011, 2.3 million jobs disappeared from the construction industry. Even though there are now plenty of job openings, many of those displaced workers moved on to other positions and never returned to the industry.

Many in the younger generation also mistakenly see construction as an unreliable means of income – likely due to the same downturn period – and don’t want to pursue it as a career. Combine these factors and you get a severe labor shortage. There are, however, several programs aimed at improving this situation, helping everyone from small children to seasoned veterans develop an interest in the field.

1. Jobs for Returning Veterans

Construction is expected to be one of the fastest growing careers in the United States, with a predicted job growth of 13 percent by 2024. Much of the workforce is aging and retiring, leaving empty positions that need to be filled – and many companies can’t wait for students to funnel through new education programs.

Many veterans are perfect candidates for these positions. The physical demands of the military make these men and women particularly well suited for the requirements of construction work.

Mechanics and technicians are needed to run heavy equipment or service it, skills veterans may have learned during their time in the armed forces.

Home Depot is training veterans to fill the tens of thousands of vacant construction jobs in the U.S. by offering apprenticeship programs on military bases. On Fort Stewart base in Georgia, for instance, men and women learn the basics of construction during a 12-week apprenticeship program. With more than 700 state and local associations for home building around the country, expect to see more of these types of programs.

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2. Teaming Up With Local Organizations

Some construction companies are thinking outside the box and teaming up with local organizations to teach younger generations about the joy of building something from nothing. With time, projects like these can change public perspective on the great value of this work.

For example, Miron Construction teamed up with the Boys and Girls Club of Milwaukee for “Build Like a Girl” day, which allowed girls from the community to work with a mentor and learn about carpentry in a hands-on way.

Organizations may also be able to receive federal grants that help with apprenticeships through the United States Department of Labor, which recently announced $150 million in H-1B funds for key industries and especially supports programs for veterans, military spouses, women, minorities and ex-offenders.

3. Teaching Life Skills to Young Children

Some groups are starting even younger and teaching kids as young as four to nine about building. Construction Kids, for instance, offers year-round summer camp-style educational programs that teach construction skills through kid-friendly projects.

4. Trade Schools

One way to combat the shortage is to encourage people to enter the trades while they are still in high school. Construction is an attractive option to young people who would prefer not to spend tens of thousands on a college degree, especially if they aren’t sure what field they’d like to go into and don’t like working indoors or spending time in a classroom.

In Indiana, for example, Building and Development Association of Southern Indiana (BDASI) is working to create a building trades school in the area that would teach specialized home building skills and be tied to the trades track at the local high school.

Students could attend the school after high school graduation at no cost to students but with a commitment to work for a specific company for a set period. The employer would subsidize the cost of the schooling. Other communities are looking at similar solutions.

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5. Making Construction Current

One of the major causes of the labor shortage is the lack of interest from today’s students. Many of them have some preconceived notions about what construction work entails – some of which might be true and some of which might not be.

Construction companies can recruit bright youth by providing a variety of programs as mentioned above, creating a company culture that attracts upcoming graduates and pointing out the benefits of working in the construction industry. Some in the younger generations, for example, may not be aware that specializing in a specific area within construction may net higher pay per hour than getting an advanced degree in a subject area that isn’t in the medical or technology fields.

Construction Labor Shortage Solutions

Overcoming the extreme shortage of construction labor won’t be an easy task. Companies will need foresight and creativity if they hope to attract tomorrow’s graduates and fill jobs as older workers age out and retire from the industry. Mentorship programs allow knowledge to be passed on before those who know the ins and outs of specific skills leave for a sunny retirement location. With a little effort, however, the shortage can be overcome, and the construction industry can continue to grow.