The big box retailer says The Home Depot Foundation’s donation of $5 million a year over the next 10 years will help train carpenters, framers, electricians and plumbers — the very workers that builders can’t find enough of in today’s tight labor market.
In an announcement, the foundation cited Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing there are currently 158,000 unfilled construction jobs in the country. The skilled labor gap, expected to get worse as more aging construction industry workers retire in the years ahead, stands at the highest point since 2007, according to the Department of Labor.
The $50 million gift will help train 20,000 workers over the next decade. The money will go through the Home Building Institute (HBI), which last year worked with the Home Depot Foundation on a pilot program to train people who were leaving the military. The first graduates of that 12-week program were due to finish training last month.
CNBC reported the fresh round of financing would go to veterans and U.S. Army soldiers who will soon be leaving the military, high school students, and disadvantaged young people. Roughly three-quarters of the 20,000 trainees will be veterans.
“It’s important that we support the trades,” said Home Depot CEO Craig Menear. He added that 40% of The Home Depot’s revenues comes from plumbers and other trades.
Separately, Home Depot has donated $250 million through 2020 for housing for veterans, CNBC said.
Labor shortages are slowing down the industry
The declining number of skilled workers is a growing problem for the construction industry. In a report last year, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) said most builders were having trouble finding skilled workers. Framing crews, for example, were listed as either a “serious shortage” or “some shortage” by 77% of the builders that NAHB heard from. The situation wasn’t much better for rough and finish carpenters, and the list included virtually every skilled trade that could be found on a construction site.
Not only are older workers retiring, but young people aren’t showing much enthusiasm for a life in the trades. A NAHB survey published last year showed that of the 74% of young adults who knew the field in which they wanted a career, just 3% were interested in construction. Among those undecided on a career path, 63% said there was little or no chance of choosing construction regardless of how much the job might pay.
The skills gap is one reason the industry isn’t keeping up with demand for new houses. Citing NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz, CNBC, said an estimated 900,000 single-family homes will be built this year, some 400,000 fewer than buyers will be looking for. Other problems dampening the industry include higher prices for materials, a limited number of building lots, and government regulations. As a result, home sales were off in January for the second straight month and the median sales price was up.
Fine Homebuilding magazine’s #KeepCraftAlivel campaign is one program designed to make people aware of the skills gap and interest more young people in a future in the construction trades.