‘A Winning Lottery Ticket’

Building an in-demand career in the building trades

Each January, high school students in Lafayette, Indiana, learn how they can build careers in the construction trades – an industry facing a significant shortage of workers across the nation.

A plumber working on a boiler. The Builders Association of Greater Lafayette works to highlight training and career paths available in construction. The Home Builders Institute estimates that 2.2 million new workers will be needed in the next few years to keep up with demand.

The Builders Association of Greater Lafayette (BAGL), which is comprised of a variety of organizations including homebuilders and trade groups, will host its next Construction Career and Education Expo on Thursday, January 26 at the Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds. The event features more than 40 professionals from different construction trades and services and is just one way the organization educates high school students to learn about training and career paths in construction.

“There are a wide range of opportunities available,” said Brian Kerkhoff, president of KA Components and chairperson of workforce development for BAGL. “When you say ‘construction,’ it is more than just building or remodeling a home or apartment.”

The workforce shortage appeared in earnest following the home mortgage crisis in 2008, when many people left homebuilding and related trades, Kerkhoff said. He added that the workforce shortage has steadily grown as young people graduating high school have increasingly pursued college education and other careers rather than in the construction or trades industries.

BAGL has partnered with the Indiana Builders Association and Build Your Future Indiana to encourage high school students to learn about home building and construction careers, many of which do not require a traditional college pathway. The Home Builders Institute estimates that 2.2 million new workers will be needed in the next few years to keep up with demand.

“We do not have the labor force necessary to build residential and multi-family structures at the rate we need,” Kerkhoff said. “Right now, there is a tremendous need for workers across many of the construction trades, if not all of them.”

BAGL also works with local high schools and career centers to enhance building trades classes. At the Greater Lafayette Career Academy, students collaborate with professionals to design and build a playhouse or similar structure from scratch to get hands-on experience and an introduction to various elements of homebuilding.

“Everyone in the construction industry will devote resources to enhance the skills workers may show up with, teach them new ones and potentially contribute to furthering their education within that trade,” Kerkhoff said. “Anyone can accomplish their goals within the construction industry. It simply takes effort and commitment.”

The workforce challenges also can be felt in rural areas, though local high schools are recognizing the challenges and addressing the issue, said Joe Spear, energy advisor for Carroll White REMC. The electric cooperative is a BAGL member organization.

“Not every high school student is interested in a four-year college experience,” said Spear, who was an HVAC professional for 23 years before joining Carroll White. “Our schools are increasing the emphasis on the trades, including construction, which will only benefit our rural areas.”

The Home Builders Institute highlights that half of payroll workers in construction make more than the U.S. median wage, and the top 25% of earners make at least $71,000, which also is more than the national average.

“We call it a winning lottery ticket,” Kerkhoff said of a career in the construction industry. “Turn in your ticket, if you will, at one of many companies building our communities with the potential to achieve a successful and gratifying career.”