Building a Career in Construction

By Leigh Goessl

Construction has historically had its ups and downs due to its direct ties to economic trends. Those in the industry know how hard construction was hit during the last severe economic downturn, but now the tides have changed. Construction is expected to see a large level of growth over the next several years.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports construction labor will be needed and is anticipated to grow about 25 percent from 2012 to 2022. Employment opportunities in the field are described as being "much faster" than the average when compared to other occupations. Increased growth for management positions (16 percent) is also anticipated.

But while overall construction growth appears to be certain, the specific skills in demand will vary depending on the region. A big problem the industry faces is a general shortage of workers.

"We surveyed our members about [the skillsets most currently in demand] last October for our most recent workforce survey," says Brian Turmail, Senior Executive Director of Public Affairs, Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), pointing to the organization's survey results. AGC is an organization that represents over 26,000 firms in the United States. In its network of chapters in the U.S., its membership includes leading general contractors, specialty-contracting firms and service provider and suppliers.

Members' responses to the survey highlighted nationwide construction trends. Many noted several key positions they were having the most trouble filling. Carpenters topped the list as currently being the highest skill in demand; 66 percent of members surveyed said they were having trouble finding skilled carpenters. Other trades in demand included roofers, equipment operators, plumbers, electricians, iron workers, laborers and pipefitters/welders.

The need for experienced trade workers is clear, but people looking to enter construction and learn a craft have options too.

"Construction is one of those professions where you can actually get paid, via apprenticeship programs, to learn the craft. So certainly where there are union or open shop apprenticeship training programs available, take advantage of those opportunities," recommends Turmail.

If newcomers to construction do not have access these types of programs, there are other options to get a more solid foot in the door.

"People thinking about getting into construction should consider taking some basic construction skills classes that are available at most local community and career and technical college programs," Turmail says. "While firms will hire people without basic construction skills, it is certainly a lot easier to get a job in construction with a pre-existing set of skills."

In many states where there are trade unions, workers might be wondering if they need to be a union member to get a good job.

"There are wonderful opportunities in both union and open shop construction,” Turmail notes. "Ultimately the final decision should be based on the workers’ preferences and to some extent geography - there are areas where unionized construction work is far more prevalent than other areas."

Construction salaries in the U.S. vary depending on the craft and geographical area. As an example, carpenters and plumbers make, on national average, about $40,000 per year at the entry level according to salary information posted by 

Want to launch a career or add some new skills to your toolbox? If forecasts are any indicator, now might be the time. With such a shortage in experienced workers, people seeking a job in construction will find the market offering lots of options.

Leigh Goessl is a freelance writer who covers topics about business, technology, careers, education and travel. Reach her @LeighGoessl

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