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My father is a third-generation home builder in Louisville. I remember weekend days as a young child going to “check the jobs” with my dad. I was always excited when the “check” required more than a drive by. This meant I was able to go onto a jobsite and witness firsthand the work being done. As I got older, I’d spend summers working at those jobsites, and I gained an appreciation for my father’s management of the projects, and for all the skilled tradespeople who turned an empty lot into someone’s new home.

I have not worked directly in the construction industry since those high school summers, but I have maintained a connection to the industry. Specifically, by supporting construction industry organizations and working with clients in the industry. I have served on various committees at Allied Construction Industries (ACI) and the Building Industry Association of Northern Kentucky (BIA-NKY). These organization do a great job in the Greater Cincinnati area of promoting the construction industry and trades. Over the last several years, I’ve become passionate about helping to address the workforce development challenges that the construction industry faces. I see the incredible opportunity within the construction trades to change the lives of individuals and families by providing fulfilling and lucrative careers.

I recently attended the ACI Annual Meeting where 15 winners of the 2022 Skilled Trade Awards were honored with cash gifts totaling $7,500. I was part of a group that started this program in 2018 when we were thrilled to raise enough money to give just two $500 awards. The program highlights employer nominated skilled trades workers who excel in their craft. My role in making this program a reality is one of my most proud professional accomplishments to date.

I also recently attended the launch of a new initiative at ACI called She Builds, which is a series of programs designed to increase the number of females in construction careers. To hear the stories of several successful women in such a male dominated industry was inspiring. I’ve benefited from the opportunity to be a part of a woman owned business at TAAG, and appreciate the additional hurdles women often face to set themselves apart in the workplace.

I’ve decided to use this space this month to help spread the word and highlight the career potential within the construction industry. As our economic conditions continue to adjust to the post pandemic world, we find ourselves with both very low unemployment and very high job openings. More than ever before people have choices. Competition for workers is at an all-time high. Individuals have an increasing ability to choose where they work, how they work, what type of work to do and who to work with. I think the construction trades offer several unique advantages that should be considered.

First there is an incredible need for people in the skilled trades. The average age of a construction trade professional is 41, this suggests there will be immense numbers of opportunities for young people in the trades to rapidly advance their careers to fill the skills gap. Additionally, there are a large variety of construction trades. The numerous roles provide opportunities to work mostly alone, or as part of a close knit team. Trades people get to engage in mentally and physically stimulating work on a daily basis. They are exposed to unique and changing project environments, both inside and outside. Construction workers creatively solve problems, help others, and make a lasting impact in their communities. Perhaps most fulfilling is the ability to see the tangible progress and results of the work take shape on a regular basis.

It’s not hard to make a strong financial case for a construction career. Training and apprenticeship programs are often paid by employers. Someone coming out of high school can begin earning an income immediately as opposed to delaying their income producing years and assuming large amounts of debt to attend college. Furthermore, the income is great, 2020 median pay for the construction trades was $48,610. By comparison the median income for all other jobs is just $41,950.

Consider an 18-year-old high school graduate who immediately begins a career in one of the trades. They make an average of $48,610 per year for ten years, earning $486,100 of total income by age 28. This can be accomplished with $0 in student loans, or other debt. Conversely a 22-year-old college graduate with a degree in accounting will earn a median income of $73,600 per year. By age 28 they will have earned a total income of $441,600, and may have $28,800 or more in student loans to pay off. If a student continues to graduate school, they may see an increase in their annual income upon graduation, but they’d have given up 6-8 more earning years, and likely added even more debt.

From a planning perspective, the financial freedom and flexibility provided by accelerating the income producing years without significant debt is compelling. This would allow the individual in the construction career to invest in their retirement sooner, save for home ownership sooner, and gain valuable experience that may lead to promotions, increased future income, and even the potential for business ownership. For example, an 18-year-old skilled trade worker who invests $100 per month in a balanced investment portfolio earning 7% will have $137,225 by age 50. A 4-year college student who pays down student loan debt over 5 years post-graduation, and then begins investing the same $100 per month at 7% annual returns will have just $66,530 by age 50. To catch up, they would have to invest over twice as much as the trade worker who got started earlier.

Allied Construction Industries and other organizations across the country are working hard to address the skilled trades gap. Hopefully more young people and their parents get the message and consider a fulfilling and lucrative career in the construction industry. The result would be more individuals and families set up for long-term financial freedom.