In an ever-evolving world, the construction industry is a critical driver of progress, shaping our cities and infrastructure. To continue thriving, it requires a well-trained and adaptable workforce. Unfortunately, the shortage of individuals entering the industry is well-documented and forecast to remain a concern.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction industry averaged 400,000 job openings per month in 2022. The BLS also projects a 2.8% growth in overall employment in the sector from 2021 through 2031.
As an industry, what can businesses do to help address this shortage that will inevitably get worse as nearly one-quarter of all workers are over age 55? As the head of Missouri State University’s technology and construction management department, I have had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the impactful cooperation between industry and academia. This partnership has led to the creation of pathways that empower aspiring professionals and elevate the construction industry.
At the higher education level, partnerships between academic institutions and industry stakeholders are paramount. These partnerships ensure that educational content remains relevant and aligned with the evolving demands of the industry. By fostering open lines of communication, we can tailor curricula that encompass innovative technologies, sustainable practices and innovative construction methodologies. Graduates armed with this knowledge are not only job-ready, but also equipped to drive industry progress.
Moreover, these collaborations connect education with career opportunities. Industry input helps shape programs that produce graduates with a comprehensive skill set, enhancing their attractiveness to potential employers. Through guest lectures, workshops and site visits facilitated by industry experts, students gain insights into industry trends and challenges, fostering a seamless transition from academia to the professional world.
One of the cornerstones of this collaboration lies in the provision of high-quality internship experiences. These internships serve as a conduit between theoretical knowledge and practical application, allowing students to gain insights into real-world challenges. By working alongside seasoned professionals, students not only refine their technical skills, but also develop a deep understanding of industry dynamics, safety protocols, teamwork and other critical skills.
However, a comprehensive industry workforce strategy does not merely end at the college level. Additional outreach efforts directed at primary and secondary education levels play a pivotal role in cultivating interest in construction careers from an early age. By engaging with K-12 schools, we can ignite curiosity and debunk misconceptions about the industry. Through classroom visits, job shadowing opportunities and interactive sessions, we have the opportunity to showcase the diverse range of opportunities both in the skilled trades and other roles.
Looking ahead, industry and academia need to work more closely to both reimagine and reshape the workforce. Both can work together to address perception issues. The workforce of the future will continue to need skilled trades, and we collectively need to look beyond our current recruitment pathways and explore ways to encourage underrepresented populations into the industry. For example, females comprise 11% of the industry’s workforce, but more than 50% of the total U.S. population. That is a gap with tremendous potential for industry transformation.
Likewise, as technological advancements start to change traditional construction methodologies, the need for workers with new skill sets is set to exponentially grow. Individuals with information technology experience, automation and robotic programming abilities, and 3D modeling skills will be highly sought after for emerging career pathways. Industry and academia must work together to both train and educate today’s youth that the construction industry offers a variety of careers that are rewarding personally, professionally and financially.
Ultimately, the interdependent relationship between industry and academia must continue to evolve as we move toward a workforce for the future. We must leverage outreach initiatives, high-quality internships and collaborative curriculum development as a bridge to a more productive tomorrow.
Richard Gebken is an associate professor of construction management and head of the Department of Technology and Construction Management at Missouri State University. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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