Metropolitan Community College (MCC) is experiencing record enrollment in its construction and building science program, in response to the serious skilled labor shortage in the construction industry.
MCC opened its Construction Education Center in 2017, said Josh Steele, construction management instructor at the college.
The construction program had 220 class seats filled during the center’s first year of operation and enrollment grew to 332 seats in fall 2018, Steele said. The seat count may include some duplicates, because some students take several classes at the same time.
The construction program currently has the highest enrollment ever in its 40 years of operation, said Trevor Secora, construction technology instructor at the college.
A “ton of students” are enrolling for trades like carpentry and construction management, Secora said.
According to Secora, Baby boomers are retiring from the construction industry, and it has been hard to steadily replace them. Demand for skilled labor is rising in the U.S. in all fields of construction, such as plumbing; electrical work; civil engineering; and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).
The construction industry listed 278,000 job openings and 7,288,000 total employees in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Electricians are the trade in highest demand in Omaha because of projects like the Facebook data center in Papillion, Steele said.
Almost every type of skilled construction worker is in high demand, he said. Many projects are suffering due to a lack of workers.
Employers have gone so far as to bring in skilled labor from out of town, Steele said. Construction costs are rising, partly because of the labor shortage.
“Talk to masons, they’re going to tell you there’s not enough masons,” Steele said. “Talk to carpenters, and everybody will say you could use a lot more carpenters.”
To try to fill the gap, MCC recruits at high school career fairs and partners with trade organizations to stage events to attract new students, he said.
The college also buses in local high school guidance counselors to teach them about the opportunities in construction trades open to students after they graduate, said John Kretzschmar, director of the William Brennan Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
“They know nothing about it because their high school counselors don’t know anything about the building and construction trades. It’s all about going to college, going to college, going to college,” Kretzschmar said.
MCC also invites students to come to the center to try hands-on activities and learn about possible careers in construction, Steele said.
The college lets high school students take construction classes for high school and college credit, Secora said. This helps to interest young people in trades and to build their careers.
Some sources project that the labor shortage will close until 2026, Steele said. In the meantime, the construction industry is shifting toward using more prefabricated work in buildings to cut down on labor requirements.
Despite the rising number of students studying construction, the labor shortage will not be made up any time soon, and the gap is getting bigger, Secora said. Even if the economy slowed down, the shortage would still exist.
“There’s definitely a huge push to attract that younger crowd and educate them and their parents both on the value of a career in construction,” Secora said.
Construction trades offer opportunities to have a rewarding and fulfilling career, he said.
“I know Mike Rowe says it great: he says forever we’ve been telling everybody, ‘go to a four-year degree, work smarter, not harder,’ Secora said. “But he always says, ‘You’ve got to work smarter and harder. Why tell somebody not to work hard?’”