February 2, 2024 min read

Gen Z in Construction: Recruiting & Retention Tips




Learning & DevelopmentVector LMS and Training Management

In an era marked by rapid technological advancements and evolving career expectations, the construction industry faces the unique challenge of attracting and retaining young talent. As digital natives with distinct values and preferences, Gen Z brings both opportunities and challenges to the construction workforce. This blog explores the strategies construction firms can deploy to effectively recruit and retain the next generation of workers.

Gen Z in Construction: What They Value and Want in a Job

Generation Z is the cohort born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s, making them the latest generation to join the workforce.

Shaped by technology, globalization, and a unique set of societal dynamics, Gen Z brings a fresh perspective to the construction sector. Unlike their predecessors, they’ve grown up in a digital era, with smartphones in hand and a world of information at their fingertips. Understanding who Generation Z is crucial for construction firms looking to recruit and retain talent in an industry that continues to build the future.

But Gen Z also has shifting perspectives on careers and higher education than former generations. 73% of young adults said they respect skilled trade as a career and about half are interested in pursuing a career in a trade.

This is, in part, driven by the fact that Gen Z is more confident that skilled labor and trades aren’t likely to be replaced by AI compared to many desk-based jobs.

So, while it’s a positive sign that more young workers are open to go into a trade rather than get a college degree…there are still some challenges attracting these workers to construction roles.

Key Characteristics of Generation Z

  1. Digital Natives. Gen Z is the first generation to grow up in a fully digital age. They are accustomed to rapid technological advancements and instant access to information. To engage and retain Gen Z talent, construction firms must leverage digital tools and platforms in both recruitment and daily operations.
  2. Purpose-Driven. This generation values purpose and social responsibility. Gen Z seeks employers with a strong commitment to sustainability, diversity, and community impact.
  3. Entrepreneurial Spirit. Desiring to make a tangible impact, Gen Z exhibits entrepreneurial traits. Construction firms can tap into this spirit by fostering an environment that encourages innovation, problem-solving, and continuous improvement.
  4. Diversity and Inclusion Advocates. Gen Z is known for its emphasis on DEI. Companies promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace are more likely to resonate with Gen Z, who actively seek environments where different perspectives are valued and respected.
  5. Preference for Flexibility. Work-life balance and flexibility are highly valued by Gen Z. This makes recruiting and retaining Gen Z more difficult for construction roles that are on site, have inherent environmental risks, and don’t offer as much flexibility.

Understanding the nuances of Generation Z is the first step in developing effective recruitment and retention strategies tailored to them.

Why Generation Z is Hard to Recruit & Retain

Because Generation Z has a unique set of attributes and expectations, it makes it difficult to attract and retain them to work in the construction industry, which can be slow to adapt to change. Let’s dive into the specific challenges, so you can more easily overcome them.

Challenges of Hiring Generation Z in Construction

An Associated General Contractors (AGC) study found that 85% of construction firms have open positions they are trying to fill. Increasing demand for construction projects is part of this, but it’s also because applicants lack the basic skills needed and one-third can’t pass a drug test.

  1. Different career expectations. Gen Z tends to explore a variety of career paths rather than committing to a single career early on. To hire them, you’ll need to convince them of the benefits of a career in construction. We recommend using Construction Learning Paths to show them the varied and fulfilling path they can take in the industry.
  2. Digital natives. Gen Z are masters of technology. They expect to have access to tools and cutting-edge technology at work, just like they have in their personal lives. Construction firms that haven’t embraced digital transformation may struggle to hire Gen Z employees.
  3. Demand for purposeful work. This generation seeks meaningful work that aligns with their values. Construction companies might struggle with stereotypes of the profession despite the profound societal impact of the industry on communities and economies.
  4. Skills gaps. Gen Z might have technology skills down, but they can lack practical skills required in the construction industry. AEC experts have even noted that recent Gen Z graduates are severely lacking in soft skills like communication and critical thinking, which are necessary in construction project management.

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Challenges of Retaining Gen Z Construction Workers

  1. Job hopping tendencies. As we mentioned, Gen Z likes to try on a bunch of careers before settling. This is why it’s so critical to provide clear career paths and growth opportunities, so Gen Z staff don’t get restless and leave.
  2. Desire for continuous learning. In a similar vein, Gen Z craves ongoing learning and development. Companies that don’t invest in ongoing training or upskilling risk losing Gen Z talent. Not to mention, this generation needs specific construction training to thrive.
  3. Competition for talent. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is creating a lot of jobs. With the demand for labor far outpacing the supply, competition is getting steep. But where this really hurts firms is how it impacts the cost of labor. Inflation and competition drive the cost of labor up, but Gen Z also tend to have very high expectations for starting salaries. Analysts say Gen Z overestimates the average starting salary by $50,000. That’s a bad sign for an industry where construction workers have a median salary of $37,770 (as of 2021).

3 Strategies to Help Hire and Retain More Young Employees in the Construction Industry

Don’t get discouraged about the challenges of attracting and hiring Gen Z for construction roles. Understanding this generation is the key to stressing the value of a career in construction. Here are three strategies to do that:

  1. Craft Compelling Recruitment Campaigns. Tailored recruitment campaigns to the preferences and values of Gen Z. Leverage digital platforms, social media, and visually appealing content to showcase the dynamic and impactful nature of careers in construction. Highlight sustainability initiatives, community engagement, and the opportunity for career growth within the industry.
  2. Invest in Technology and Training. To meet the expectations of a digital-native, construction firms must embrace technology in their operations. Implement cutting-edge construction technologies, software, and tools that enhance efficiency. Additionally, prioritize comprehensive training programs that address both technical and soft skills. Bridge the skills gap by offering continuous learning opportunities, mentorship programs, and clear learning paths. Position your company as a hub for skill development and innovation.
  3. Promote Sustainable Practices and Environmental Stewardship. Generation Z places high value on environmental sustainability and social responsibility. Showcase your commitment to sustainable practices and environmental stewardship within the construction industry. Emphasize eco-friendly construction methods, green building initiatives, and the incorporation of renewable energy solutions. Communicate your company’s dedication to reducing its environmental footprint and contributing to a more sustainable future.

Implementing these strategies not only addresses the challenges of hiring and retaining Generation Z but also positions construction companies as forward-thinking and socially responsible employers.

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