Courses helps educate youths needed to fill construction jobs as openings rise
Mark Long came from a family of high school dropouts. And for a while, his siblings expected him to follow in their footsteps.
Math and science weren’t his thing.
“I just wanted to mess around,” the Orange County native said.
Then, Long discovered a new class at his high school.
Called BITA, or the Building Industry Technology Academy, the Katella High School course taught students how to hammer, saw, build walls and install wiring and plumbing. Students used their brains as well as their hands, with math as essential as a Milwaukee miter saw.
It pretty much gave me a purpose,” Long, now 35, said of BITA. “Being able to build stuff was my passion.”
Long was the first in his family to pick up his high school diploma on graduation day and the only one to finish college.
Today, Long is a construction manager for a general contractor overseeing road and bridge work. And, he’s Exhibit No. 1 for how training programs like BITA can help solve the construction industry’s labor shortage by steering high school students into the building trades.
BITA is now a statewide program, with classes in 29 California high schools.
“Our goal is to get the kids … interested in the construction industry,” said Jill Herman, director of the BITA program, run by the California Homebuilding Foundation. “And hopefully get into the construction industry.”
Homebuilders see the labor shortage as their top problem this year, according to a recent National Association of Home Builders survey.
While the industry has added nearly 1.5 million new construction jobs since the recovery began, it’s been 300,000 workers short, on average, over the past 10 months, U.S. census and Labor Department figures show.
Demand for new homes is growing faster than developers can build them, industry officials say. Same with remodeling jobs.
“We’ve had a lot of people leave the industry. They’ve gone to other places [to find work] and they may never come back because of age, [or] they found a good job in … another skilled labor sector,” said Mark Pursell, president and CEO of NAHB’s National Housing Endowment. “It’s up to us to show the career path to the kids.”
‘We’re getting older’
The nation’s workforce as a whole has been aging, but construction workers are aging faster, census figures show.
The percentage of construction workers 45 and older went from a fourth of the industry’s workforce in 1993 to just under half in 2017. The number of senior carpenters, plumbers, masons and electricians tripled over that 25-year period, while the number under 45 years old increased just 16%.
“We’re getting older,” said David Pekel, CEO of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. “We need to develop a way to market what the skilled trades mean as a career path.”