Sunday, July 19, 2009

Gila Monsters, Lee Marvin, Sun-Belt Politics: Where have all the Journeymen Gone, and Can We Have the Soul of Motorcycle Maintenance Return?

By Paul K. Haeder

It was one of those glorious Sonora mornings: Spiny swift lizards scurrying through sage and cholla looking for juicy poppy moths. Coveys of California gambler quail peeling out through 2,000 year old creosote and ironwood mesquite. Turkey vultures catching granite shade and thermals along the Santa Catalina mountains. Yes, two kit fox pups chewing at the warming wind. Terra cotta roofs and slumbering javelina. Black and red racers slithering through the rock daisies and spent Van Gough yellow spent blooms of the palos verdes trees. A seven-foot gopher snake spreading out and moving slowly in the wet sandy wash. Every sort of beavertail, prickly pear, barrel, agave and segmented cacti mottled with needles. Saguaros still firm and their white blooms harboring tarantula hawks, bees and red-throated humming birds. Tarantulas everywhere. I lift a rock along deadwood in the wash and see my buddy -- a four-inch giant hairy scorpion.

Then, “Lift right . . . one, two, three. Lift left . . . one, two, three. Deep bend. One breath, Lift, sink, lift, sink. Over to your left . . . paddle, paddle, paddle. Again, right . . . . .” And then the Makita saws, the hammering, the ranchero music and Flaco Jimenez on the squeeze box. “Que paso, chavo?” Both groups watch me – the white guy tromping around in the desert waiting for his mother to get done with physical therapy. It’s a fancy multi-leveled place, this rehab center and assisted living community and independent living facility. One of dozens around here. Only possible because of, a, the aging baby boomers and WWII generation folk hanging on with flimsy bones and dowager backs – they provide the needed services and facilities. Then, b, the facilities can be only built and staffed by the available labor pools, tough-as-nails and dedicated mestizos and Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who pull their weight and the weight of the white culture.

Both groups watch me, curly haired, too tanned for my age, and I speak back in Spanish to one group, English to the next. We chat, and I watch the men and women in floaties and holding foam kick boards doing the hydro exercises, and then I move on toward the roofer, cement layers, those guys lifting boards, and smearing on stucco for the new addition to another retirement village, or exclusive $3500 a month gated community. These guys are extending the high-end rehabilitation center I am visiting to help my 76-year-old mom get through the broken wrist and fractured pelvis. So many old people lumbering along, O2 tanks in tow, walkers at the ready, the heat and sweat and odd juxtaposition of hotter than hell climate and people wearing long pants, tweeds, sweaters.

The workers smile, give me a couple of upside down V’s, and I proceed to talk to Roberto, Joaquin, Adolfo. They wonder where I learned to speak Spanish. They know they are looked down upon by a lot of the same people dependent upon their sisters and female cousins and educated brothers who too are of Hispanic descent – Mexican – but gifted with legal status, or the birthright to the USA and credentialed and educated. The entire facility is populated by Mexican-Americans and Mexicans working for Judeo-Christian whites as their jefes, bosses, AKA, clients.

These are the foothills of Tucson. Territory I used to hike into to get lost, and do radical camping trips through, in the middle of the summer, in the middle of gully-smashing monsoons. Alone with the bobcats, cougars, coyotes, black bears, and a million reptiles. Mohave rattlesnakes. Vernal pools. Magical springs in rock caves. No fancy homes. No humming air conditioners. No Volvos and Hummers. No golf courses and tennis camps. Just the shadows of the Santa Catalinas. Big canyons. Rough going. Hot lashes from horizontal lightning. One bitchen place for a 17-year-old to do two days of hiking and camping. That was 35 years ago.

Now it’s full of trendy restaurants, showcase homes, Marriots, Jack Nicolas- designed fairways. Homes big enough to house day cares and art studios just in one domicile, but built for two or three humans. Incredible views of the valley. Tucson. The Old Pueblo. Traffic, inversion, ground level ozone, ticky-tacky strip malls, signs and car lot after car lot.

In 1900 this town had 7,500 people eking out a living. Of course, this valley had Paleolithic visitors 12,000 before the present, but thanks to Spanish missionaries, and the cross and the gun – guns, germs and steel as Jared Diamond posits -- the place became “civilized.” So, in 1910, 20,000 folk were living in the Old Pueblo. By 1940 the place had 37,000, and then Tucson was well-known as a place for rehabilitation for lung diseases like TB. A movie industry shot up in the 1950s. Now, as of 2008, in this water-hurting place, the MSA, or metro area, is pushing 1.1 million folk. It’s a modern city with a great university and some odd characters and hard-edged retirees and ex-military conservatives and more and more Hispanics gathering and settling here. It is known for tree-ring research, garbology, and astronomical sciences. It’s a medical center Mecca. There are way too many allergens and dust and disease spores called Valley Fever coccidioidomycosis for Tucson to have that renown now, and construction workers and old folks are some of the ones who get Valley Fever in the highest numbers.

Again, water is the land use planner’s nightmare, and for one of just a few cities in the US with this odd fact, most of the water consumed in Tucson is being used for people as opposed to ag and industry. Many of the farms and industries have withered away. Tucson isn’t as bad a Phoenix in the wasting of water department; Phoenix has lawns, lakes, one of the largest fountains in the world, so many non-native trees. Odd times, with Arizona State University in Tempe being hailed as a sustainability hub for colleges. The very fact that people are settling into Maricopa County where Phoenix is located is appalling on many levels. Homes are huge, driveways lengthy, three-car garages the norm, and new freeway after new freeway being clogged in months after the dedications. Tennis, skin cancer, homelessness, lack of respect for walkers, vanishing desert, water piped from the Colorado River known as the CAP, gang bangers, fusion restaurants, the Mormon Church, Charles Keeting, a flat-earther racist governor of past, a current Sheriff who threatens fellow cops in the various municipalities as well as humiliating prisoners waiting for trumped up pot possession charges. Phoenix -- Hooters and Home Depot paradise.

The point still to tie into the End of Macho and the Deficit of Skilled Workers is that Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Salt Lake City, Most of Southern Calife, Colorado, and parts west of the 100th meridian, all of those places are being hit with foreclosures, high unemployment, migratory families, and a construction and trades industry that is being decimated by the captains of industry and the pencil-necked service industry one-program wonders. It’s a test, and when you look at the End of Macho, look at the facts that men in this society have squandered their ability to lead, to work together, we can see two world views and realities colliding – yes, women are taking over, but, no, we can’t outsource farm labor, road building, wind turbine construction and architectural green retrofitting to China. Yes, men have created the savings and loan debacles, the current looting of America, the bizarre political arena of sex-hating-sex-loving Republicans and metro-sexual lobbyists and a very tepid Democratic wing that just seems incapable of dealing with Boxer, Dean, McKinney, Kucinich, and others fighting for some basic health and green economy programs. Yes, it looks like more and more women are heading up non-profits and running for local and state office. Yes, women are holding onto jobs and men have been hardest hit by this current Wall Street sacking of local economies.

More on that in a minute.

While women love those dog-legs and sand traps, it’s still an oddly male thing, golf, one of the most environmentally unfriendly pastimes any with a beating heart could take up. For Tucson’s 35 golf courses in 1997, all totaled, they sucked up 10 percent of Tucson’s water. Now, 16 courses use reclaimed water.

In future blogs, we’ll look at the morphology of cities, why we settle where we do, and what pressures will cause massive contraction. Why is it that we are putting more people in the cities and towns and suburbs of what is called the 13 Sunbelt States when those states require so much car travel, air conditioning and so many have lax labor laws and are anti-union to the max. The West, or Southwest in particular, has always been an area where the times were either boom or bust. Wallace Stegner writes a lot about the west, including the Northwest, in his work, and his talked about it in “Conversations with Wallace Stegner,” a must read, as do writers like Gary Snyder, Richard Hugo, Patricia Limerick, and others. Much of the west is being hurt by a construction boom collapse. And a retreat of industries. We’ve let the male culture of stock options and de-investment in communities to run roughshod too long. Right now, Phoenix cops are worried about abandoned homes in nice middleclass hoods, where people just packed up one night with all the goods they could pack into a U-haul and just took off. Empty homes equas gang hideouts, squatting, and now, untended pools that are harbingers of vector borne illnesses through the stagnating waters of mosquito-ville.

So where are the teeth in water restriction mandates? Why is it that in Tucson and Phoenix it’s tough to find limited examples of sustainability. With is it that more than 350 days a year of 95 percent or more clear skies has no solar energy arrays/plants and very few roof solar panels been installed? This place is a male testament to xenophobia and closed in thinking. Is it the men who are blocking the work we need to do to embark upon a huge revamping of community and regional revisioning and replanning.

I wonder what those governors are doing in Mississippi this week for the annual governors’ conference. Working together to tie into regional planning for water, population, sharing of resources, economic connectivity? Nah, the governors of California and Pennsylvania aren’t attending because of budget woes that are taking wages away from government employees and teachers; entire programs are being gutted because of this single state parochialism. So a few governors feel guilt flying around to yet another conference. Interesting.

So, later, we’ll see what companies like Autodesk and ITS folk are doing to help climate, geology, public health, hydrology, and planning experts strategize and implement action for a very hot world and some very big challenges to human settlements in marginal places where water and food are scarce, where housing is tied to huge loads of electricity to keep it air conditioned and cool.

What I will segue into here is that reference to all those hammers and Skil saws. All those people in the pools complaining about the Mexicans, about the border, about the foreigner bringing in the drugs (for their grandkids and lawyers and dentists to partake in), about the hoards of Mexicans taking over and their big families. These people who have their fancy floors and tile put down by Mexicans, and their cars serviced by Mexicans, and their blood drawn by Mexicans, and some of their favorite restaurant fair made by Mexicans and the roads they drive on, constructed by Mexicans, and the pool they're wading in, well, you get the picture. There is a huge disconnect still in this country about white dominance and white privilege and the odd racism of the dominant “culture.”

One irony while there at this facility, was a conversation I had with a man in his early 80s. He had the telltale serial number of the Nazis and their Jewish eradication. He still had animus toward the very fellows who had lifted those two-by-fours that built the sauna room his was sweating in. More than just verging on racism. Out and out racism.

Maybe that’s the death of macho those two writers [see below] should have been concentrating on, the white privilege and the poor white class males being left out of the money hoarding, the American dream.

By I digress. Today it’s about the gap between men and women in schools, in the board rooms, in the workplace, etc. A fellow at the New America Foundation and co-author of an article, “The Death of Macho,” in Foreign Policy magazine, Reihan Salam, along with Ross Douthat have some interesting things to say about the shifting demographics and socio-psycho-economic dynamics of a male-dominated society getting frayed at the edges. Women, in a word, are taking over.,0

The article is right on in many ways, but as all things tied to the think tank mentality and with these preconceived theses, they miss some points – and unfortunately, many people today still do not put into the mix whenever they are prognosticating or deeply researching topics the idea of peak oil, expensive energy, global warming, and all those positive feedback loops that will make making a living as some human resources director or some marketing guru impossible. We need hands, and shovels, and while Salam and Douthat propose that the new green economy is mostly for those thinkers and office people and white collar planners, they miss some real important points. Here are a few interesting highlights from the article:

· they’re calling it the “he-cession” -- mMore than 80 percent of jobs lost hit men in the USA

· all told, by the end of 2009, the global recession is expected to put as many as 28 million men out of work worldwide

· between 28 and 42 million more jobs in the United States are at risk for outsourcing

· men are falling even further behind in acquiring the educational credentials necessary for success in the knowledge-based economies

· three female college graduates for every two males in the United States

· American Journal of Public Health: “The financial strain of unemployment” has significantly more consequences on the mental health of men than on that of women.

· the housing bubble created nearly 3 million more jobs in residential construction than would have existed otherwise

· women make up nearly half of biological and medical scientists and nearly three quarters of health-industry workers

· the Chinese Communist Party has long seen the country’s 230 million migrant workers, roughly two thirds of whom are men, as a potential source of political unrest. Tens of millions have lost manufacturing jobs already, and so far they’ve proved unwilling or unable to return to their native provinces.

I’ve seen the phenomenon in my more than 25 years teaching – males once dominated the engineering and sciences, just the colleges I taught at. Slowly at first, more women came into the fields of biology, engineering, law, health, medicine. I saw more going into business. Another thing I witnessed was the intolerance of males when it came to questioning Empire or Ronald Reagan or Bush Senior or Bush Junior. When the males were faced with the same questions posed by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Chalmers Johnson, Naomi Klein, well, many more balked, and the drop out and withdrawal rates and lack of attendance and just lack of application began to rise amongst men. I saw the dynamics of small groups and men and women working together. Many times the men feel alienated, or that they should have some entitlement to leadership. Sexism at the college-thinking level is appalling by many males. Males quit more easily, complain to authorities more easily, and there is now fear of violence, both verbal and physical, amongst more and more faculty who have more and more male students who are acting out their frustrations and fears on women. In fact, we have symposia on what we can do at the community college and universities to retain male students, to curb dropout rates, to engage males to become more engaged in their education and academic communities. We are at a crisis point.

So, let’s have some future engaging thinking about how private companies can help in this arena tied to education. We do not need more disenfranchised groups in our society, especially males, young males. And, well, we have to realize that even white collar folk become more valuable to themselves many times when they can work and see things accomplished with their hands. We will need those hands for the next paradigm shift into sustainable communities and retracting communities. We need more tools in the education toolbox. Private companies must support public education and the business elite must send their children there and their leadership there.

I was that kid in Tucson, looking for summer jobs framing and pounding nails and working on highway crews. But I was college bound, and came from college-educated parents. I wondered how life would be working 40 years in the sun, push a shovel or operating a backhoe, and back then, construction was not a valued field by the average American. "Of course, it's fun for a summer, drinking beer, hanging out with working men . . . but remember, you have to get on with your white collar, educated lives," the parents said. Construction is for losers.

Ahh, it’s funny how my time in Tucson has framed much of my thinking about male roles and the shifting demographics of the Southwest. I remember when I was a small town newspaperman , I talked to so many people embedded in work and self-mythologizing about their “west.” I recall the two conversations I had with "Dirty Dozen" and "Go Paint Your Wagon" Lee Marvin. He and his wife were living in one of those dreamy homes in the foothills where the retirement villages now pop up monthly. He had the pool, the tennis courts and the western lifestyle, mojitos and tequila sunrises to boot, though when I met him the second time he was on the wagon and into a microbiotic diet.

He had the dough from acting, but he lived that hard life, leaving the military young after WWII, ending up working as a Honey Bucket man – cleaning sewers and septic tanks – while going to acting classes at night. He played hardboiled characters, and he always embodied this tough, working class guy. Maybe he was, but when I spoke with him he was gentrified, ready to talk about my script, about movies, about writing.

I wonder what that conversation would be if he were alive. What guys like Lee Marvin might think of this “death of macho” and this fragmented world of those who revile had work, labor, and those who find work with his or her hands satisfying.

We’ll talk about that too, soon, in a future blog – this new “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” that Matthew Crawford is making the literary rounds and morning show circuit with as he explores his own evolution from white collar soulless worker to motorcycle mechanic.


Shop Class as Soulcraft” is a beautiful little book about human excellence and the way it is undervalued in contemporary America.

Skip to next paragraph


An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

By Matthew B. Crawford

246 pp. The Penguin Press. $25.95


An Essay in The Times Magazine Adapted From ‘Shop Class as Soulcraft’ (May 24, 2009)

Matthew B. Crawford, who owns and operates a motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, Va., and serves as a fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, notes that all across the United States, high school shop classes teaching mechanical arts like welding, woodworking or carpentry are closing down, to free up funds for computer labs. There is a legion of experts denigrating manual trades like plumber, carpenter and electrician, warning that the United States labor force needs to be “upskilled” and retrained to face the challenges of a high-tech, global economy. Under this new ideology, everyone must attend college and prepare for life as a “symbolic analyst” or “knowledge worker,” ready to add value through mental rather than physical labor.

There are two things wrong with this notion, according to Crawford. The first is that it radically undervalues blue-collar work that involves the manipulation of things rather than ideas. Expertise with things permits human beings to have agency over their lives — that is, their ability to exert some control over the myriad faucets, outlets and engines that they depend on from day to day. Instead of being able to top up your engine oil when it is low, you wait until an “idiot light” goes on on the dashboard, and you turn your car over to a bureaucratized dealership that hooks it up to a computer and returns it to you without your having the faintest idea of what might have been wrong.

The second problem with this vision is that the postindustrial world is not in fact populated — as gurus like Richard Florida, who has popularized the idea of the “creative class,” would have it — by “bizarre mavericks operating at the bohemian fringe.” The truth about most white-collar office work, Crawford argues, is captured better by “Dilbert” and “The Office”: dull routine more alienating than the machine production denounced by Marx. Unlike the electrician who knows his work is good when you flip a switch and the lights go on, the average knowledge worker is caught in a morass of evaluations, budget projections and planning meetings. None of this bears the worker’s personal stamp; none of it can be definitively evaluated; and the kind of mastery or excellence available to the forklift driver or mechanic are elusive. Rather than achieving self-mastery by confronting a “hard discipline” like gardening or structural engineering or learning Russian, people are offered the fake autonomy of consumer choice, expressing their inner selves by sitting in front of a Harley-­Davidson catalog and deciding how to trick out their bikes.


Labor Shortage May Hit Southwest’s Construction Industry

Since late last fall, California has been experiencing a growing shortage of agricultural workers. Tighter border control measures along the Mexican border have begun to stem the flow of both legal and illegal immigrants into this country. The Trade Association “Western Growers” project that in the winter farm belt, from the Imperial Valley to Yuma, farmers will see a shortfall of at least 50,000 workers – and that lettuce will be rotting in the field because there will be nobody to pick it. Growers are blaming something others applaud – more frequent patrols and raids targeting illegal workers, as well as tighter border enforcement.

This trend toward tighter enforcement is not only driving up wages for agricultural workers – the Los Angeles Times reports that some farm workers now earn $15 per hour, plus benefits and a bonus if they work a full week at a time – but this shortage could already have begun to have an impact on the construction industry in the Southwest. For instance, San Diego ’s North County Times, citing reports published in Barron’s, notes that other industries – especially construction – employ larger total numbers of illegal immigrants than the agricultural industry. Yet the number of illegal agricultural workers in California alone is estimated to be above 500,000.

The North County Times also reported that, “with construction jobs in California's rapidly developing inland cities offering year-round employment starting at $10 an hour, many farm workers have decided to try their luck in other jobs.”

"I'm lucky if I have half as many people as I need," Harvey Singh, who farms 500 acres of Thompson seedless grapes for raisins in Fowler, told USA Today. "Anybody capable of swinging a hammer and driving a nail through a board gets hired in construction."

But as the total labor pool shrinks in the face of increased border security efforts, and as agricultural wages continue to rise, how long will it be before construction begins to feel the same pinch that has already hit agriculture in California and Arizona ?

In Nevada , for instance, 70 percent of the construction industry workforce is Hispanic – and while many of them are citizens or legal immigrants, it’s clear that a significant number of those workers are at risk from increased efforts to tighten the border and enforce immigration laws.

This impact of immigrants on the construction industry – legal and otherwise – is felt far from the Southwest. For instance, New American Media reports that “immigrants are one of the main labor sources for the rebuilding and clean-up effort in post-Katrina Louisiana and Mississippi

While recent grant-funded efforts to promote job-site safety among Hispanic workers – whom OSHA has identified as the most at-risk demographic in the construction industry – others in industry and the academic field are concerned that the agricultural labor shortage is a bellwether of what the labor-intensive construction industry is already starting to face. For instance, Arizona State University 's Morrison School of Agribusiness is tracking the shortage numbers this year in an effort to get a more definitive picture of what's happening – to the agri-business industry and to other labor-intensive industries that depend on Hispanic work forces.

USA Today, in a recent report, suggested that – at least in the short run – agriculture’s problem may actually benefit the construction industry. “These workers, many of them illegal immigrants, are taking higher-paying, less-strenuous jobs in construction and landscaping, both fueled by a home-building boom.”

“Construction pays better,” USA Today reported, “$12 to $15 an hour vs. a farm laborer's $9 or $10.” However, hard numbers are hard to come by. "We've heard the complaints from ag, but we haven't done an analysis," says John Frith of the California Building Industry Association.

The Los Angeles Times reports that some farm employers are now matching construction industry wages. “Some farmers are increasing their base pay and piece-work rates to $10 to $12 an hour, about the starting wage for construction workers” while the Times cites other reports that put winter-crop farm wages in the Imperial Valley at as high as $15 per hour.

The Fresno Bee, in the heart of the agriculturally-intensive San Joachim Valley , reported in depth on this trend in late January. They noted that the scarcity of farm labor has worsened in recent months because other employers, including the construction industry, are competing for the services of immigrant workers, and the competition is nationwide.

"The rest of the nation has discovered California 's little secret," said Gregory Billikopf, agricultural labor adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension based in Stanislaus County . "Workers who used to come to California are now going to Vermont and Kentucky and North Carolina . It's a Hispanic work force with a very high work ethic, a very strong desire to make money and maximize earnings." Rosenberg told the Bee that nonagricultural employers in the Fresno area are reported to be recruiting for jobs with wages ranging from $11 to $16 an hour.

How big is the overall impact of Hispanic immigrants – legal and otherwise – on the US economy? Census figures show that the Hispanic population in the US is equal in size to the entire population of Canada – more than 30 million individuals.

However, it has been efforts to stem the tide of illegal immigrants that seem to be driving the growing labor shortage. According to the San Francisco Chronicle and the Pew Hispanic Center, America’s illegal population is just less than 11 million, and that roughly 700,000 illegal immigrants enter each year. Annual illegal immigration is now believed to exceed legal immigration, and more than a quarter of those in the country illegally live in California.

Others cite even higher numbers. Men and women who have crossed the border illegally – mostly from Mexico – may number as high as 20 million, with 12 million to 15 million holding jobs, according to analysts at Bear Stearns in New York. An analysis published by Barron's estimated they account for about $970 billion of the goods and services produced by the real economy.

A Gallop-USA Today-CNN poll was cited that showed 56 percent of Americans surveyed say the federal government should focus on stopping the flow of illegal immigration, while only 41 percent said they should find a way to allow those in the country illegally to become citizens.

Because politicians tend to be responsive to these kinds of numbers – especially in an election year – legislation that further tightens the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States is likely to pass in some form. This will lead to further shortages in the agricultural industry – and could quickly lead to a growing labor shortage in the construction industries in California , Nevada and other fast-growing Southwestern states.


U.S. Construction Industry Faces Skilled Labor Shortage

by Mark W. Avera - July 23, 2007

The impending exit of the baby boomers from construction jobs offers an obstacle for the industry to overcome

The construction industry in America is standing in the shadow of a historically unprecedented hurdle. The workforce is aging, and candidates are not being drawn into the industry quickly enough to compensate for the inevitable mass exodus of the baby boomers. In 2004, Bobby Rayburn, then president of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), identified “a shortage of skilled workers” as being “one of the most serious challenges” facing the homebuilding industry. The housing downturn that has occurred since Mr. Rayburn spoke those words has not changed the situation; a lack of skilled workers is still a real and quickly approaching obstacle to be overcome by the industry. And that is just the residential sector. Commercial construction has been booming while residential construction has been swooning, and some firms are already feeling the pinch of an undersupply of skilled workers in certain disciplines.

Statistics tell the story well. A recent Human Resources Blog entry offers some interesting numbers from Ira S. Wolfe’s Perfect Labor Storm 2.0. For example, “there are now more people over 90 or 100 years old than in all of American history put together.” Even more startling for this paper’s purpose is this: “the 50 and older population in the U.S. from 2000 – 2050 will grow at a rate 68 times faster than the rate of growth for the total population.” Or try this one on for size: “Almost 90% of the net increase in the traditional working age population is projected to occur in the age 55 – 64 group,” and “over the next 15 years, 80% of workforce growth in developed economies of North America…will occur among people 50 years and older.”

Crane operating has been a big issue in the news during the first half of 2007, and we are likely to see it continue into 2008. There have been countless reports on the shortage of not only cranes, but more importantly the experienced workers qualified to operate them. Due to this, crane operator wages have increased as their supply has decreased. Take crane operators as the bellwether of the skilled construction job market: other disciplines are soon to find themselves in the same situation.

A recent article in EC&M points out that the “size of the 20- to 24-year-old male group continues to decline slowly throughout 2007, reduced by stronger immigration enforcement and hiring by manufactures and motor carriers.” Meanwhile, the average age of a skilled construction worker, depending on where you are in the country, is currently hovering around 47. With such a high average age and the number of younger people entering the industry falling, the fact that there will be a labor shortage is undeniable. As Beck Ireland points out in the EC&M article, “firms may have difficulty finding qualified workers or, if they do, then they’ll have to offer higher salaries and better benefits to remain competitive.”

These observations offer encouragement to the young people who are choosing to enter the construction industry. First and foremost, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that over the past year or two, employment growth in construction was higher than any other of the Bureau’s chief subcategories. Additionally, in 2005 – 2006 every region of the United States reported an increase in construction employment more than double the increase in total employment. In other words, construction has some of the strongest job growth of any major industry.

So, what does this all mean? Basically, construction jobs, even with the housing downturn, continue to grow thanks to great performances on the commercial end. With the baby boomers poised to retire, there will be a shortage of qualified and experienced people to sustain the industry’s demands. Also, with the exit of so many highly experienced individuals with long tenures in the industry, positions up the ladder will be opening up as well, meaning that individuals choosing to enter the construction industry today will not only find themselves comfortable with strong job security, but also fortunate in the host of opportunities available to them to climb the career ladder. In fact, the possibilities available to young people entering the industry today are phenomenal. The sheer variety of different positions, firms, and specialties, combined with excellent prospects for the future, make construction a top industry for employment to people smart enough to realize its potential.

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