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The Construction Conundrum

Harley-Davidson is a true American icon with real brand cachet. For a particular breed of leather wearing motorcycle enthusiasts, there is simply nothing on par with Harley.

The motorcycle company was founded in 1901, but it wasn’t until the arrival of the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) that sales skyrocketed. Boomers embraced the Harley bikes as totems of rebellion in the 1960s and 1970s and drove its growth in the ensuing decades.

Youth. It’s why Harley thrived under the Boomer youth regime, Nike thrived under the Gen X (1965-1981) youth regime, and Apple thrived under the Gen Y/Millennial (1982-1995) regime.

However, Harley has made headlines in national media as motorcycle sales have declined, dropping as much as 30% within six years. Turns out Harley Davidson’s brand and sales depend disproportionately – almost exclusively, in fact – on middle-aged males.

Harley’s conundrum is the equivalent of what’s happening in the construction industry. One out of every five construction workers is 55 or older and the industry is projected to lose 1.1 million workers to retirement by 2024. The industry has recognized a growing, urgent need for succession planning, workforce development, and engagement among young professionals.

Since 2013, XYZ University has celebrated Halloween by reporting on the scariest workforce stats and we felt it was important to spotlight the construction industry this year, especially considering these industry stats:

  1. Construction is the fastest growing industry of all the goods-producing sectors.

  2. Only 3% of 18- to 25-year-olds were interested in pursuing construction as a career.

  3. 64% of Millennials said they wouldn’t even consider working in construction if you paid them $100,000 or more.

  4. About 80% of construction companies can’t find the workers they need.

Paying close attention to the changing needs and values of the marketplace is critical. The fact is, no industry’s future is riding on the success of the Boomers anymore. At 80 million Americans, Millennials are now the majority of the workforce, and the oldest Gen Zs turn 21 this year. These are the generations that will be responsible for carrying our industries forward.

Employers need to worry a whole lot less about the Boomers leaving (because they will) and a whole lot more about whether they’ve adequately prepared future generations to be the best economic engine possible (because we need them to be).

The vitality of the entire construction industry is critical to the nation’s economy. Recruiting and retaining talent must be the imperative in every construction company in every community. Start thinking about and preparing for the future now – before it’s too late.


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