Working-class employment in the U.S. is changing. My dad was a carpenter and many of my friends’ parents worked in the trades or in a factory. However, the vast majority of middle-income parents want their kids to go to college and get a professional job, not work in the trades. Today, a college degree can cost well over $100,000 with student loans burying graduates in lingering debt. Yet millennials and others do not see the trades as an opportunity, even if trade workers make more money and enjoy what they do.

According to The Economic Policy Institute, working-class employees without a degree made up 66% of the entire workforce. Remember too that much of this workforce is composed of women, and traditionally the construction industry has not done that well recruiting women. Competition for employees will continue to grow and be a major business issue for years to come. Your business employment practices must change, or your company will have a painful future.

It’s All Numbers

First of all, this is just math. Math is science. To make matters worse, we have an immigration system that doesn’t seem to work. Plus, millennials seem to have little interest in entering the trades. So, what does all this mean? The working-class workforce of tomorrow will have a different look and feel. 

In the future, you may have to look at new recruiting avenues, hire bi-lingual project managers, etc. One thing is for sure: you will have to be more aggressive regarding recruiting and maintaining your workforce.

Pay to Play

Be the best employer in your trade in your area. Stop saying and thinking things like, “Well, I pay equal to my top competitors.” See this as an opportunity to get ahead of your competition, not match them. Pay above the top of the market. 

Remember, you don’t control wages, the marketplace does. I know a local business that is advertising $14 an hour and the theme park just announced they are hiring at $16 an hour plus benefits. Let’s see, I can nail shingles for $2 an hour less than I can make working in a theme park. Hmmm, where do I sign up? 

As businesses across the United States continue to open from COVID-19 slowdowns, there’s going to be a fierce competition for employees. Pay higher starting wages. Folks that don’t go to college or drop out are prime employment prospects. Many are confused and unsure what they want to do for a living. Some work at various retail, food, or other entry-level jobs. Pay higher than your local wage entry point. 

That wage will vary by region and location. If someone’s friends are making $15 and you start folks at $17 or $18, your entry-level people will advertise for you. Paying more to start can help you find long-term employees. Be ruthless and don’t keep people who are unwilling to show up, work hard and learn. Keep looking for the good seeds of your future. 

Much of roof installing is repetitive and can be learned quickly by the right person. As an employee’s skill and pay grows, so does his or her life commitment. It’s hard to just suddenly stop your career and learn something new when the rent or mortgage are due, a baby’s on the way, and the car payment and utilities are already late.

Maybe the employee was going to be a professional baseball player or rocket scientist, but the reality of life has locked his or her career into the trades. Put rising stars on a fast track. Recruit talent, teach skills, pay well.

Attitude Adjustment

Does your recruiting budget match your sales advertising budget? If an employee brings in $30,000 a year in gross profit, a capacity shortage immediately impacts the bottom line. Yet many contractors spend $1,000 or less on recruiting ads and wonder why they can’t find anyone. How much are you willing to spend to earn another $30,000 a year? Social and economic attitudes towards physical labor have changed. Yet many employers have not. 

If you saw a $100 bill laying on the sidewalk, you would quickly bend over and pick it up. If a valuable employee contacts your office or sends a resume, you must quickly pick them up. Frequently, he or she will have a job within 24 hours. Too many contractors are too busy doing other things and the administrative staff is too slow to react to prime employee prospects.

Times have changed. Times will continue to change. You must change with it or get left behind. The challenge of the coming decade is finding and maintaining a field workforce. This problem is not going away quickly, and you must adapt. It’s not your dad or grandpa’s workplace anymore.