Construction industry expected to reach new heights in 2023 thanks in part to influx of young talent

Melinda Rizzo, Contributing Writer//May 8, 2023


Construction industry expected to reach new heights in 2023 thanks in part to influx of young talent

Melinda Rizzo, Contributing Writer//May 8, 2023

The construction industry is poised for strong talent growth and jobs expansion.  

Continued advances in AI (artificial intelligence) and technology, a growing jobs market due to persistently stubborn skilled labor shortages and more cross training for job transitioning are hallmarks of construction industry career growth and opportunities. 

Laurie Grove, director of career services at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, said graduating students are in high demand.  

“The younger generation of students doesn’t want to take a job and that’s it. They want to know what their upward trajectory will be,” she said.  

Providing education as well as job training at companies for a “seamless transition to move up that career path” to other positions like estimating, scheduling and construction management is among the targets, Grove said.  


Growth and AI 

In the coming years, Pennsylvania is looking at about 10% projected growth in the construction sector, according to Grove.   

“In that space, whether they [companies] are large or small, they’ll see continued growth, and they will need to wrap their arms around changes in technology,” she said.  

While the construction industry may not have embraced AI as quickly as other business sectors, Grove said its time has come. 

“Robotics is everywhere. Software that will input data and collect it, and cross it over all business departments is here. Business development, payroll, estimating and scheduling” are all tasks benefitting from AI, she said.  

“Growing talent from within,” is among the signals she sees from construction firms, and that means more cross-training field and labor employees for leadership positions.

“Taking over those positions in business development and estimating, to investing in technology and communication… [this] will be important for the industry in general,” Grove said. 


Accelerating the traditional career trajectory  

For decades, the traditional construction career trajectory might have started as a laborer and progress to a foreman position – when one opened – and finally become a department superintendent.   

With persistent labor and skills shortages, companies are more open to move staff around, and cross-train them to take on new and different positions.  

“The [laborer] knows the language and actually understands what it means to build something. Cross-training them to use the new technology and to lead that space makes sense,” Grove said. 


Aging workforce  

 While Covid highlighted supply chain snarls and worker shortages, it also prompted many at or near retirement age to leave the workforce.  

For those left behind, bridging tech skills with traditional hands-on learning and experience can provide staffing stability, as well as a rich source for mentors.  

“[Older workers] may be struggling with helping mentor younger people, who are tech savvy but don’t have the other skills – like managing people and practical building experience,” Grove explained.  

“I think it’s our job (as older generations) to look at the world through their eyes and help get them to where they need to go,” she said. 


Construction management and the fast-track   

Michael Gibson, a business development manager for Ondra Huyett in Upper Macungie Township, said construction management as an industry or professional service works with clients as well as architectural and engineering professionals.   

“We’re tasked with overseeing schedules, budgets, quality and the safety of a client’s project,” Gibson said.  

While there may be firms that don’t directly employ skilled trades, or those who do field labor, most will employ related jobs such as estimators, schedulers and project managers, engineers and project managers, among others. These positions are needed to conduct the work of the construction management firm.  

“We’re very challenged with finding new generation project managers, who are familiar with construction to “backfill” the ever increasing number of needs,” Gibson said.  

New hires may start as a company intern, progress to assistant project manager, manager, and senior manager.   

“Most companies have a director of projects. The ease of entry starts with a good construction management project and then coming on board and learning,” Gibson said.  

Being a construction management estimator or scheduler is mostly accomplished using computers and software, along with the ability to read construction documents.  

“It is an easy on the body way to get involved in the construction industry,” Gibson said.  

“The worst thing that can happen is to continue to grow and not have the personnel to keep up with the growth,” he said. 


Training talent  

Kate Manna-Eaton said the firm’s talent currently settles into two camps: long time employees and apprentices. Manna-Eaton is vice president for human capital at Mowery Construction, a construction management, and design build company in Silver Spring Township, Cumberland County.  

“It’s becoming easier to enter the trades today, and there are more young people coming into the trades, which was not happening five years ago,” Manna-Eaton said.  

She credits better communication in secondary schools with making a difference to encouraging different career paths.  

“We go into schools to talk about construction management and what carpentry is as a job and career,” Manna-Eaton said.  

Construction management, the process of managing a building project from conception through to completion, is attractive for people who “still want to get their hands dirty. They can work in that corporate environment and step out and work in the field as well,” she explained.  

At Mowery employees have shadowing opportunities to learn new jobs. Part of the firm’s mission is to “hire for a career … and for life,” Manna-Eaton said.  

In addition Mowery has agreement with ABC Keystone-Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc, Keystone Chapter, in Manheim for coursework. Mowery provides job training hours.  

“They [ABC Keystone] provide apprenticeship programs for the trades and beyond that they have other learning opportunities for project manager or estimators,” she said. 

 Other professional talent comes to Mowery from various backgrounds including civil, mechanical and related engineering degrees. 

“When we speak to people, what they love is putting buildings together and watching them build from the ground up,” she said. 

Construction industry jobs and co-op  

Adam Lazarchak, executive director of Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School in Bethlehem Township, said students are in high demand with Lehigh Valley construction firms. 

The school services Bethlehem, Northampton and Saucon Valley school district students in Grades 10-12.  

There are more jobs students and graduates in carpentry, HVAC, electrical, plumbing and masonry, he said.   

Cooperative education, or co-op program students, provides high school students with a combination of classroom coursework and on the job training. He said this program is booming, in which young people attend school and work in trade jobs during part of their school day.  

“About 30% of students are in the construction trades co op program, and we can’t meet the demand. We have more requests for students than we have students to go out” to work, he said. 


Graduates getting more involved  

Lazarchak said the number of Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School graduates who return and volunteer on the school’s Occupational Advisory Committee, or OAC, has increased.  

The OAC is made up of industry professionals, who advise school leaders regarding programs, curriculum, teaching methods, or “what we teach and how we’re teaching it” best industry practices and needed tools and advancements.  

“We’ve seen a real increase in our alumni getting more involved in our committees to guide the next generation,” he said.  

Melinda Rizzo is a freelance writer