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Scary Stats
Industry - Construction
Succession Planning
Talent Development

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.

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: 

  • Construction is the fastest growing industry of all the goods-producing sectors.
  • Only 3% of 18- to 25-year-olds were interested in pursuing construction as a career.
  • 64% of Millennials said they wouldn’t even consider working in construction if you paid them $100,000 or more.
  • About 80% of construction companies can’t find the workers they need.

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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. 

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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