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A retiring generation of workers leaves room in a variety of skilled trades

Several trades in the construction industry are poised for growth over the next few years. Many of these jobs will provide a competitive salary, training and opportunities for advancement. 

The workforce in construction, as in other sectors, is dealing with the retirement of Baby Boomers. The National Center for Construction Education & Research estimates that 41% of the current construction workforce will retire by 2031.

“We have significant need based on retirees leaving the industry,” agrees Bryon Short, executive vice president of the Delaware Contractors Association (DCA). “There’s been a decades-long reduction of people choosing to go into the construction industry, due to the push of ‘everybody goes to college.’”

The construction sector was busy before the COVID-19 pandemic, and will be in the future as well, says Ed Capodanno, president of ABC Delaware. “There still is a need for workers, and there will be a need as we look forward.” 

Here is a look at some of the trades poised for growth.

Diesel Mechanics and Masons

“Two extremely viable career choices I don’t feel receive enough attention are diesel mechanics and masons,” says Jamie Chambers, DCA’s community manager. “All our contractor members are looking to hire, but those two areas specifically struggle more than others.”

Diesel mechanics work on the electrical and exhaust systems of vehicles to help them comply with pollution regulations. Entry-level wages for this profession in Delaware average $16.63 an hour, according to the Delaware Department of Labor. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the best growth prospects for those who have completed a postsecondary training program in diesel engine repair, such as the one being offered at Delaware Technical Community College’s (DTCC) Middletown campus.

Entry-level cement masons and concrete finishers in Delaware are paid an average of $18.45 an hour, while brick masons and block masons can expect to make $20.08.

BIM and Drone Operation

“It has become apparent through this COVID-19 pandemic how important virtual technology is in the construction industry,” says Chambers. “If you like video games, Building Information Modeling (BIM) or flying drones throughout active construction sites for safety and efficiency purposes is a viable possibility towards making a good living.”

Drones have become important tools for aerial surveying in construction. Their operation requires certification by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in the form of an online test that has to be retaken at an FAA testing center every two years. 

BIM is a technology-supported process that generates digital representations of physical places, such as proposed construction sites. DTCC offers an associate’s degree in Computer-Aided Drafting Design Technology that provides a good entry point to careers in 3D drafting. 

Entry-level wages for drafters vary based on specialization, roughly between $17 and $25 an hour. Electrical and electronics drafters are the most highly paid, with an entry-level rate of $24.60.

Plumbers, Pipefitters and Steamfitters

Young workers pursuing one of these careers will be able to find employment over the long term, with the Delaware Department of Labor projecting employment in this category at 1,175 by 2026. The mean wage for these workers is $61,644 per year, with an average entry-level wage of $17.80 an hour. 

Pipefitters and steamfitters install and maintain pipes that may carry chemicals, acids and gases. These pipes are mostly used in manufacturing, commercial and industrial settings. Fitters install and repair pipe systems in power plants, as well as heating and cooling systems in large office buildings.

Electricians and Electrical Power-Line Installers

There are always opportunities for electricians to find work. The Delaware Department of Labor expects this sector to add more than 100 new jobs by 2026. 

Electricians can expect to work on electrical equipment in homes, factories, businesses and buildings either under construction or fully built. 

Opportunities for electrical power-line installers and repairers are expected to grow by 2026 as well, and the average entry-level wage in Delaware is $25.55. Many employers in this field provide on-the-job training for advancement. 

Mythbusters: Construction

Addressing common misconceptions about careers in the sector

Contrary to the popular belief that construction is a dying industry, a career in this field offers an opportunity to make an impact in your community, earn a solid income and have a chance to move into a management position. 

“Going into the trades was the best decision I ever made,” says Hector Ortiz, a welder for RC Fabricators, Inc. who attended Delcastle Technical High School. 

Jobs in the construction industry will grow at the third-highest rate through 2022, behind health care and the financial services industry, according to ABC Delaware.

Here is a look at some other common misconceptions about construction work.

Construction workers are underpaid. 

Construction workers made a median annual salary of $35,800 in 2018, according to U.S. News & World Report. However, many construction trades come with significantly more generous wages. Some of the higher-paying jobs include millwrights ($30.98 an hour/$61,960 a year on average, and $34.35/$68,700 a year for more experienced workers) and electricians ($30.95 an hour/$61,900 a year on average, $36.29 an hour/$72,580 a year for experienced workers). 

Also bear in mind that workers in the trades have the opportunity to start earning during their apprenticeship and don’t need to contend with college debt in the first few years of their career.

Construction work is hard and dirty, with little to show for it.

Many employees in the construction industry find the work incredibly rewarding and meaningful. That plays an important part in keeping people motivated to perform jobs that can be physically demanding. 

“People in the construction industry make a difference in the quality of life in Delaware and around the country,” says Ed Capodanno, president of ABC Delaware and the Construction Education Foundation of Delaware since 1993. “Construction provides new schools, shopping centers, roads, bridges, restaurants and other facilities needed for life services and programs. 

“Without these new facilities, along with maintaining and renovating existing facilities, the quality of life in our state and country would diminish. There is nothing like telling someone that you helped build the facility you are currently in or driving by. The feeling that your hands and hard work helped build that can be very uplifting and gratifying.” 

Jobs in the construction industry can be highly technical and may take a long time to master. 

While this is true, consider that apprenticeships allow young people the opportunity to get paid while they learn the trade.

“Individuals obtain the skills needed to be successful,” Capodanno says about apprenticeship programs. “It is a combination of on-the-job paid training during the day, with book knowledge acquired at night to supplement your hands-on training. This is how top-level craftsmen have learned their trade over the years. It allows an individual to earn a living while getting hands-on experience so they can have income coming in while obtaining the educational knowledge to go with that. The combination provides them the opportunity to fully understand their trade, with the opportunity to advance as a supervisor, foreman, project manager, etc.”

Apprenticeships are available throughout all areas of the industry, including electrical, HVAC, roofing, plumbing, welding, sheet metal, heavy equipment operator and other positions. 

Many construction professionals who began as apprentices have moved through the ranks and eventually opened their own businesses. 

By Todd Karpovich

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