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Attracting Younger Workers to the Trades

2019 State of the Industry Report

Wentworth Keith

As a contractor, it is exciting to be included in a piece on the future of the industry. It makes me proud to see that the Metal Building Contractors & Erectors Association (MBCEA) has finally taken its rightful place at the table. By working together and acknowledging multiple viewpoints, our industry is so much stronger. Nowhere is this more evident than in the labor shortage.

Our manufacturers and engineers continue to design ever more sophisticated buildings. It is more important now than ever that our contractors and erectors have well-trained, highly capable crews. Unfortunately, our industry is aging with fewer young people interested in the trades. We all have a vested interest in this challenge; thus we all need to work to address it.

Getting youth and their parents interested in the potential of a career in the trades needs to be a priority. This year I was able to participate in a Construction Career Day program in New England. Forums like this are fabulous opportunities to let the next generation see how rewarding a career in the trades can be. Our erectors are well paid and highly trained. Our job sites are safer than ever. There is great satisfaction in watching a project develop from a blueprint to a completed building; to seeing progress every day; to working outside with a team; to completing a job and moving on to the next. Somehow, we need to convey this pride and job satisfaction to the next generation of erectors.

The MBCEA has formed a Labor and Education Committee with a singular focus to ensure metal building construction education is a priority. We are creating a program for colleges, community colleges and technical schools to integrate into their building technologies programs. We recognize that there are pockets of metal building construction coursework around the country. There is an opportunity to use these programs as a template for other schools; alternatively, we may be able to tack onto existing programs like welding and carpentry. There are opportunities as well with vocational schools and apprenticeship.

Solving the labor crisis and attracting the next generation of workers will not be easy. But it is vital that we try and it begins with education.

As we look to the future, construction labor is not our only challenge, however. Scheduling is our age-old problem that never seems to improve. Building lead times are currently extended due to a shortage of designers, engineers and detailers. Projects are frequently further delayed due to weather and adverse conditions. Building availability coupled with tariffs and other price factors wreaks havoc with scheduling and planning.

Contractors and erectors are not going to solve the building availability problem or the price problem but we can work smarter and make better use of technology. The MBCEA annual conference is the best place to hear from the experts, learn what is new, and gather the tools we need to make our businesses more resilient. Sure our industry has challenges, but we are stronger together. Active participation and support for industry associations like MBCEA, the Metal Building Manufacturers Association, the Metal Construction Association, etc., will ensure our future.

Keith Wentworth is president of the Metal Building Contractors & Erectors Association and vice president of Dutton & Garfield Inc., Hampstead, N.H. Wentworth holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Merrimack College, and has more than 20 years of experience in commercial and industrial metal building design-build construction. He is proud to be a third-generation Butler builder. Wentworth also serves on the board of directors of the Metal Building Institute and is a past president of the New England Chapter of the MBCEA. To learn more about the MBCEA, visit