Are Construction Worker Stereotypes Causing a Skill Shortage?

October 10, 2018 Sarah Lorek

The demand for construction is growing much faster than the number of skilled workers, and the industry is facing a skill shortage like never before. So why aren’t more students interested in construction? Could construction worker stereotypes be to blame for the skill shortage?

In this article, we’ll review how construction workers are often stereotyped, why the stereotypes could be causing the skill shortage, and, at the heart of it all, who these workers really are.

 

The Stereotypical Construction Worker

 

In an article, “Three Myths of Construction Workers: ‘Why we are not Second-Class Citizens’,” Forrest Sim outlines three common myths about construction workers. He notes Myth #2 as “Construction workers are just dumb brutes who only know how to swing a hammer.” Sims rejects this stereotype, saying his team consists of engineers, designers, and workers with degrees and educations of all levels. He adds that, as construction workers, his team is detail-oriented, creative, motivated, hard-working, and even innovative.

Sim writes, 

“We don't construct because we can't do anything else—we construct because we are so capable of building excellence.”

The industry is a choice for many—not a last resort option. Another stereotype that Sim discusses is that construction workers are disrespectful towards women.

Back in 2016, a viral shot of a construction worker taking a selfie with Kate Middleton surfaced, causing uproar in media outlets across the globe.

Photo credit: Chris Jackson - WPA Pool/Getty Images

The shot shows construction worker, Sam Wayne, holding up his phone for a selfie while Kate and William walked by a construction site. The speculation by the media was that the workers were catcalling Princess Kate. In an interview, Wayne explained that the workers showed respect towards Kate, and added that he was amused that the media was so caught up in a stereotype about builders and scaffolders, rather than the Middleton’s visit.

Speculation aside, if anything, this is evidence that the stereotypes of construction workers are still going strong. So why do they exist in the first place? What is the source of this stigma? 

 

A Brief History of Construction Trades

Construction work has been the responsibility of people of various backgrounds for centuries. In the 19th century, the German-Speaking Framer’s Union in New York was at the forefront of growing communities, along with a growing Irish and Italian immigrant population at the turn of the 20th century. Historically, the immigrant construction workforce was willing to work for much a much lower wage than US-born workers, causing some people to think of them as second-class citizens. Could this be the root of the “dumb brute” stereotype that Sim noted in his article?

Construction workers have played a critical role in building the foundation for America and other countries alike. Their skills have been some of the most invaluable in building civilizations and driving economies across the globe. But still, problems facing the workforce persist.

 

Problems Facing the Construction Workforce

  1. Technology is advancing faster than the industry

As time goes by, technology is advancing faster than the industry can keep up. This means that while workers are busy building...new hardware, software, and processes like BIM (Building Information Modeling) are being created to make jobs faster and more efficient.

 

  1. Lack of interest in the construction industry

In the heat of increased demand for buildings, construction firms are missing out on educating students and encouraging interest from potential workers. Architecture and design are increasingly more appealing than construction to aspiring industry professionals, but even then, hiring a qualified detailer or design professional remains a huge challenge.

Getting involved in construction takes time, effort, interest, and a particular set of skills that aren’t easy to obtain. Most construction and extraction careers require on-the-job training and apprenticeships, and the physical demands of these professions are immense. So what about the stereotypes mentioned above? Could they to blame for a lack of interest in the industry?

 

Who They Really Are

The construction industry is made up of men and women with skills ranging from management to trigonometry to design to human resources. This is one of the fastest growing industries out there, and yet finding skilled workers is still a huge challenge.

Not only that, the physical demands of the trade are immense.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among all civilian jobs in 2016 requiring different strength levels, 45.5% of construction and extraction occupations required heavy physical strength at work (the most strength required for all civilian occupations). Workers know this about their profession and feel the burden of hard physical work each day.

Construction workers chose a trade that involves backbreaking labor, long hours, and sometimes unpredictable (and seemingly impossible) project schedules. In addition, they’ve worked to obtain specific skill sets that are becoming much like a lost art. How can we change the stereotypes, educate the public on the reality and importance of construction workers, and encourage future generations to pursue careers in the field?

 

Changing the Stereotype

Until we change the stereotype, it will be difficult to find skilled workers to help complete jobs in time and on budget. However, there are ways that thought leaders and innovators are working to change things for the better.

There have also been efforts to encourage women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and other predominantly male fields. With less than nine percent of the workforce consisting of women, this demographic would wildly improve the state of the industry and decrease the skill shortage.

Companies who invest in educating future generations are seeing huge returns on their investment. Providing free licenses to colleges, writing curriculums, or visiting schools are ways companies are helping make this happen. The more students that are interested in construction early on, the stronger our economy will be in the future.

Construction firms who adopt the latest technology have the potential to attract an innovative professional audience. BIM (Building Information Modeling) is becoming the norm across the world, and these new processes and best practices are paving the way for efficiencies throughout every stage of the construction process. The few construction firms who have started to adopt the latest tech trends are seeing the biggest return on investment, positioning themselves far above the less-evolved competition. This will also attract younger generations, females, and workers who want to stop the construction stereotype.


If you’re having trouble finding the right people for the job, take a look at these options for outsourcing work.

 

About the Author

Sarah Lorek

Sarah is the Lead Content Strategist for Trimble Buildings, CEC (Civil Engineering & Construction), and Geospatial. She has worked on many large scale marketing campaigns for Fortune 500 companies, helping them define their story and shape a compelling narrative. Now, she focuses on creating and sourcing valuable thought leadership content for our readers.

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