Good Wages, High Demand: Skilled worker shortage an opportunity for youth

Imagine that you have all the money you need to build your dream home, but you can’t find the carpenter, electrician, plumber, or roofer you need to complete the work. As time goes on, you find yourself outbid for desirable builders and lots.

Our region faces this situation now. A shortage of workers has contributed to rising prices and limited housing availability over the last decade, and the problem is likely to grow. When the Great Recession hit, the building industry lost up to a third of its labor force, limiting the amount of construction and widening the gap between the nation’s need for new buildings and the number being built. It is estimated that the gap in the U.S. grew at nearly a million houses annually in recent years. Imagine a million households each year wanting to build or purchase a home but not being able to due to high costs and the lack of housing inventory.

This challenge isn’t just about getting your project built. It’s about the systems that go into a building that make our lives productive and comfortable every day and keep the structure safe and working. To do these things, you – and our entire community – need skilled trades workers. We are encouraging people to join the skilled trades to help build the northern Michigan of tomorrow.

Build Your Life is a new partnership to change the typical image and expectation of construction industry careers, build collaborative partnerships with industry stakeholders, and promote educational programs in the construction field. Northwestern Michigan College, the Home Builders Association and the Builders Exchange of Northwest Michigan are teaming up on the Build Your Life initiative, along with industry partners, to increase the number of high school and college-age students in the building trades.

We are committed to ensuring that our community has enough construction industry tradespeople to support a thriving economy. We recognize that the construction industry cannot survive without skilled professionals who take pride in their work.

Midwest Broadcasting and Idea Stream also joined the initiative as early marketing partners. We intend to work together with a broad range of partners to recruit significantly more people to work in the construction industry over the next decade. Through advocacy, apprenticeships, mentorships, and learning events we will build a dynamic, robust contingent of new construction personnel and solve the construction shortage in our region.

Demand for skilled-trades workers is high, work is available with a short training period, the pay is good, and apprenticeship opportunities exist. Some apprentices find that their employers pay for their schooling and pay them to work while completing their education. This can be the perfect solution for many young workers who are still trying to establish a career.

Consider these statistics:

  • The employment of electricians is projected to grow by 10% in the next decade. The median wage for an electrician in Michigan is more than $62,000.
  • The employment of plumbers is expected to grow by 14% in the next decade. The median salary for a plumber in Michigan is more than $62,000.
  • Employment of carpenters is projected to grow 8% in the next decade. The median wage for a carpenter in Michigan is more than $49,000.
  • Professionals who work to advance their careers and further their education can earn a six-figure salary in time.

About half of America’s skilled trade employees are approaching retirement age, but they aren’t being replaced very quickly as they are leaving the field. A steady supply of skilled trades workers will contribute to a vibrant community in the future. These professionals will live in our community and add to everything from the tax base to sports teams. The benefits will extend far beyond the building industry – to the automotive, health care, and culinary fields, along with many more. NMC has training programs in each of these areas, and each faces a shortage of qualified workers.

Support the skilled trades by encouraging young people and career-changing adults to consider a rewarding career in building the future. Learn more at

Robert O’Hara has been the executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Northwest Michigan since May of 2019. He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and English from the University of Sioux Falls and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Michigan.