Help Wanted: Dirty, Difficult, Dead-end Job Pt. 1
Written By Carol Dunn
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Overcoming the Labor Shortage

Who wants a dirty, difficult, dead-end job? A hundred years ago, my grandfather was an underground coal miner in the bituminous coal region of the eastern U.S. My dad spent a little time in the mines too. It was a dirty, difficult job, but people did it because they needed the work. Not much recruitment was required. In high school, I didn’t know even one person who planned to be a miner when they graduated. Some of my classmates went to college – the ones who were going to be doctors, lawyers and engineers – and some went into construction.

Construction paid well; it was for the most part above ground; and there was such a variety of jobs to specialize in. You could frame or roof a house, pour and finish concrete, run a dozer, build cabinets, install HVAC, do plumbing, lay bricks, be an electrician. No, you couldn’t end the day without brushing dirt off your clothes. But it was a respectable living, and – as a bonus – with a little vocational training (at school or at home) you could start right away and learn on the job. With a construction job, at the end of the day you could say you actually built something.

Things shifted in the 1980s and 1990s. There was a real emphasis on getting a college education so graduates could “get a good job.” Somewhere along the line, construction employment developed a bad rep that, rather than being a good job, it was a dead-end job. A vast majority of public schools no longer offered vocational education, like “wood shop.” People apparently figured someone else would build things; unfortunately, too many people thought that. Here we are two decades into the new millennium and, according to a June, 2019 Public School Review article, 36% of the top fastest growing careers could be pursued with the practical learning and hands on experience of vocational training rather than a college degree. Equipped with vocational skills, graduates are ready for internships and apprenticeships in skilled positions.

Carpentry, electrical and HVAC jobs are included in that list of fastest growing careers. To complicate matters, a large number of people entering the workforce today seem to have bought into the misconception that construction jobs are to be avoided. Although some of them are looking for a glamorous job – head of a multi-billion-dollar organization or movie star – a LinkedIn survey found something unexpected. The top values that most people entering the workforce say they’re looking for include: compensation, balance, impact, culture, career path, pride, security, and challenge. These are values that the construction industry is well within its bounds to offer, and there are plenty of open jobs in construction. The Balance Small Business article: “A Step-By-Step Guide to Construction Recruitment,” describes steps that construction companies can take when searching for potential employees who are looking for those top values.

The first is to identify the skills your company needs and write job descriptions for those positions. Be sure to note minimum qualifications and whether on-the-job training or mentoring are possible. Before you can recruit effectively, you must believe in your industry’s value. Is this just a job, or is it a career? Based on numbers from, the average US plumber with a couple years of experience earns $56,387. Carpenters average $40,250, not including overtime. Experienced workers in the HVAC trade average $50,300 annually. More experienced trades workers earn more. In the 1970s, we were told that a typical full-time employee could expect to earn a million dollars in the course of their career. Let’s see, 40 years of being a plumber at $50K, not accounting for pay raises, comes to $2-million. Yep, that’s a career.

After deciding what employees you’re looking for, decide what values your company can offer to potential employees. Specify how employees can achieve balance in their job, how their productivity will impact the industry, how your company culture nurtures employees, what the advancement potential and security are, and what challenges can enable professional growth. The 10,000-hour rule applies to employees in these positions as much as any other pursuit. After 10,000 hours of employment (4.9 years), the worker is typically performing at “expert” level. Pay rates accelerate for experts, and that means something when it comes to security.

Search for potential employees where they spend their time. You’re most likely to find the new generation of workers online. Social media is a good place to start, as well as online classifieds. As the Small Business article asserts, be open to attracting talent wherever it exists. Before you interview prospects, develop interview questions based on what’s important to your company. 

It’s kind of nice to see interest in the construction industry come full circle. After all, construction jobs are good jobs; the industry continues to offer a respectable living; and people can again feel a sense of accomplishment that they are building something.

The people of eVolve MEP have worked in the construction industry, so they know the challenges you face and the innovations that can make a difference. Their involvement in the development of eVolve Electrical and eVolve Mechanical ensures that the software meets your industry’s needs. Contact eVolve MEP today and learn how to transform your company’s BIM productivity to the next level.

Series NavigationHow You Can Develop the Skilled Labor You Need In-house Pt. 2 >>

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