A Rallying Call

A Rallying Call

Who’s Going to Build Our Retirement Communities?
By: Brad Benhart, Associate Professor of Practice, Purdue University’s School of Construction Management


Brad Benhart

I have the best job in the world. I get to work with young people who are ready to take on the construction industry with enthusiasm and are not yet cynical curmudgeons. Yes, they are millennials, and some would rather text than look you in the eye and have a conversation. However, to be honest, they are not as bad as the stereotypes. Eventually, history will repeat itself, and today’s young people are going to grow up and take care of us in our old age…we hope. For those in construction, we want them to build us nice nursing homes!

We need everyone’s help – no matter what industry you’re in. There are not enough young people in construction at all levels: management, engineering, supervision, but most importantly, skilled trades. The alarm bell is ringing and we are sending out a rallying call. Unfortunately, not many are listening.  Where did we go wrong? Kids used to love to go into construction. For construction families, it was a matter of family pride for a child to follow their parents’ career path. I worked at a company where many could trace their family trade to their great grandparents. Many of these generations came to the U.S. with a suitcase and their trade skills, and they helped build America. We need that construction pride back.

Society’s perception of the industry has changed. Construction has a bad reputation of being dirty and not respected. This is coupled with the constant message that all kids should go to a traditional four-year college. The message needs to change to all kids should learn skills for a career. College is not for everyone, and our society needs education and training to match the needs of the workers required. This can be accomplished many ways. These skills can be taught in a high school vocational program, a trade school, technical training program, union apprenticeship, junior college, or even a university.

This is where we need your help. It can be as simple as telling that young niece or son about opportunities in our industry. It might be a guest presentation at a high school. Maybe take a local Cub Scout pack or Girl Scout troop to a jobsite. Challenge your school boards to bring back vocational training classes. (Guess what, kids love them.) Consider having your company sponsor a program at their school. Push your politicians to increase funding for technical training. We need to swing the pendulum back.

If the construction industry cannot meet the demands of our communities, it will slow all industries. We all have a stake in this shortage. There are more workers retiring from construction today than we’re bringing in.

Please help spread the word that the construction industry is a great place to build a career. There are thousands of opportunities to make a good living and support a family. The industry is changing, and technology is driving innovation. We need young people who embrace technology. Whether it is in the trades, design, engineering, supervision, or project management, the construction industry welcomes hard working team players. I am proud to be in construction and point out to my family “I helped build that!” In my golden years, I hope to say, “I helped teach the team that built this great nursing home.”