Ask business owners to list their biggest challenges this year and I’ll bet that one of the top ones will be finding good people. The labor market is tight and skilled workers are scarce. More and more, experienced people are retiring and replacements are hard to come by. Younger people just don’t seem as interested in manual work as the generations before them.
The problem is significant in most industries, particularly trades like construction. In states like Colorado, the National Association of Home Builders is predicting as much as a 38 percent increase in job vacancies by 2025. But one company there is doing something about it.
Oakwood Homes, a home builder headquartered in Denver, has create a foundation that funds a new construction school. It’s called the Colorado Homebuilding Academy. Students can enroll in a free, eight-week “boot camp” to learn how to saw, tile, drill, plaster and paint and a bunch of other skills they need to enter the construction industry. Oakwood has deep pockets — the company is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and funds the school with a $1,000 donation for every home that it closes — the company expects more than 1,300 homes to be sold this year. But its partners are essential to the success of the school.
“Trade associations are involved, other home builders are involved,” said the company’s CEO Patrick Hamill in this CNBC report. “Because we all know if we don’t do this, we’re not going to have a labor force to meet the needs of our industry.”
The academy has big challenges and convincing younger generations to join the construction trade is one of he biggest — only 3 percent planned on that direction in a recent national study.
Recruiting more women — where only 12 percent make up the construction industry’s workforce even though women represent half of the country’s population — is another challenge. The academy says 20 percent of its student population are female. The industry will also have to do a better job marketing itself, as well as raising awareness that being in construction can be a great way to earn a living. For example, students who graduated from the academy earn more than $16 per hour with some making as much as $20 per hour.
The Colorado Homebuilding Academy isn’t just for millennials. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Angie McKevitt, a 47-year-old hair stylist who signed up for the program, told CNBC. “I’ve always wanted to learn how, and this was a great opportunity.”