Report from HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List Examines the Labor Shortage

by Kacey Larsen

HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List teamed up to survey 800 home service professionals and interview key stakeholders to get a perspective from those hit by the worsening skilled labor shortage, resulting in the 2018 Skilled Labor Shortage Report. Also, the report examines a few workable solutions for getting the industry back on track.

“A lot of baby boomers are retiring, and today’s young homeowners probably know less about home improvement than homeowners did, say 20 years ago,” says Angie Hicks, Angie’s List. “They’re going to rely on people to help them—and we just have a mixed bag. We’re going to have a supply and demand problem.”

Nearly 70 percent of pros responding to the survey report they “rarely” or “never” see recent high school graduates joining the skilled trades. Respondents indicate that 11 percent of candidates applying for open positions are between the ages of 18 and 24, which is supported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data revealing the median age for workers in construction and services to buildings and dwellings is 43 years old. Going a step further, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates workers under 25 make up around 10 percent of that total workforce.

More than half of survey respondents participating in the 2018 skilled labor survey indicated that a lack of available workforce is stunting the growth of their business—70 percent of respondents say they could grow their businesses if they could only find more quality skilled workers. Over 50 percent of survey respondents say they feel understaffed. Consequently, such worker shortages have led to delays for projects and inflated home project costs across the nation.

Word-of-mouth plays the biggest role in recruiting, but nearly 75 percent of pros report using referrals over online job postings, classified ads and other methods by a large margin. Survey respondents say a strong work ethic, positive attitude, physical ability and endurance and desire to learn the trade are the most important qualifications in a candidate (over 90 percent). On the experience front, 80 percent say their jobs require zero to three years’ field experience. Home service professionals report using flexible schedules, a fun work environment and above-average wages to try and attract skilled laborers. But 54 percent indicate they are struggling to attract skilled laborers despite paying a higher wage.

Are There Solutions? 

Women make up nearly half of the American workforce, yet the U.S. Department of Labor indicates they are just 7 percent of construction-managers. Nearly half of pros surveyed think increasing the number of women in the skilled labor trades would have a “moderate” to “major” impact on the skilled labor shortage. Programs specifically aimed to recruit women into careers in the skilled labor trades could help, as well as cooperation with existing organizations like the National Association of Women in Construction, the creation of women’s trade and student associations, grant and scholarship programs, and mentorships.

Eighty percent of pros surveyed believe putting vocational programs back into high schools will have a “moderate” to “major” effect on the labor shortage, and roughly two-thirds think offering scholarships for trade schools would do the same. The belief is that reforming existing educational programs to better emphasize skilled labor careers—as well as reintroducing vocational education and apprenticeship programs into school curriculums—will have short- and long-term effects that will facilitate a broader solution. However, cost and curriculum present unique challenges to expanding vocational education and apprenticeship programs. Also, many apprenticeship programs require participants to be 18 years old—there are laws and rules regarding class credits—so policy changes and clarifications may need to be made in order to use existing resources. There may also be benefits to introducing skilled labor careers at the elementary and middle school levels as well as further integrating trade education at the university level for students seeking a clear direction for a future career.

Nearly two-thirds of home service pros surveyed believe an improved perception of “blue-collar” work would have a “moderate” to “major” impact on the labor shortage. While such a stigma did not develop overnight, changing such a perception may help attract young people to the trades. Partnerships between professionals and educators could generate greater exposure as well as hands-on training and messaging in the schools. Nearly half of pros surveyed report they would be personally willing to work with schools to help increase the availability of skilled laborers in their trade.

“I think we’re in the phase of people starting to collectively agree there’s a problem,” says Chris Terrill, HomeAdvisor. “The second biggest challenge is: What’s the solution? You’ve got some people who want the solution to be a federally mandated program, and that has an upside and downside. You’ve got people saying, ‘No, let the states help.’ Others are saying, ‘No, let it be nonprofits or schools.’ Others are saying, ‘No, let businesses solve it.’ A fragmented solution, even with lots of money coming into it, is not necessarily going to be a good solution. Everyone has to galvanize and come together and really pragmatically address the situation.”

Find more of the 2018 Skilled Labor Shortage Report from HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List as well as insights from various home service professionals, students, educators, and the leaders of HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List on the skilled labor shortage and possible fixes here

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