University of St. Thomas research shows keys to attracting youth to construction

The key motivators for youth attracted to careers in construction are good pay, diversity of work, availability of work and creating the tangible. These findings come from a newly released University of St. Thomas Applied Business Research report conducted for Housing First Minnesota.

“What this research demonstrates clearly is that efforts like Project Build Minnesota are on the right track and must continue,” said Katie Elfstrom, communications manager for Housing First Minnesota and the research supervisor.

One key finding of the report is that school counselors can be strong advocates. They are more open to careers in construction than ever before and they perceive that society is broadly changing in accepting the value of skilled labor. They identify that there is still a strong stigma about not getting a four-year degree, particularly for parents, but that is slowly changing.

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While Project Build Minnesota has been working to change this stigma and educate counselors by exhibiting at the Minnesota School Counselors Association for several years, counselors still are underinformed about our industry’s career ladder.

Survey Findings of High School Counselors

• 95% of counselors are unsure of the education requirements for a career in construction

• 90% are unsure about construction career salaries

• 65% of school counselors are unsure of the various job options available

• Counselors report that 18% of their students reach out to them about construction, a surprisingly high number

The researchers recommend that efforts like Project Build Minnesota continue to reach out to counselors and provide them information (salary, jobs, pathways). Project Build Minnesota Executive Director Dennis Medo reports that they have already put together a kit that is being distributed to school counselors.

The report also highlighted some unique characteristics of Generation Z, which now makes up one-third of the U.S. population. In particular, this generation seeks to make a difference in the world. They are highly capable of self-direction and non-traditional training. They want their careers to have meaning and to do work that will help make the world a better place, a trait that is valued more than compensation. Given these desires, a residential construction career that builds safe, durable homes for families in communities they love should be a very attractive story.

However, there are fears young people have about the industry. These include:

• The physicality of the job

• The external work environment (tough work outside)

• The coworker environment (tough crowd to work with)

The research revealed that students are unaware of the opportunity for career advancement and entrepreneurship in the construction industry with 60% of students reporting they are not aware of the potential career paths in construction.

To address these concerns, the researchers recommend attending career fairs and providing accurate local information. Project Build Minnesota has developed its own speakers bureau that reaches students in the classroom.

In another effort to reach students, Project Build Minnesota and Housing First Minnesota have been working diligently to change Minnesota statutes to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to be on the job site under appropriate supervision. Limited progress was made on the issue this past legislative session and work will continue in subsequent sessions. Department of Labor & Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink told Housing First Minnesota she would be bringing together a work group to study the opportunity.