If you are selling a product, you need a target audience. But what if the industries you sell to don’t have enough people to use your product? That’s a problem the building materials industry has been facing in recent years.
Of course, the story is not all bad. Building materials manufacturers have benefited from strong demand in the building sector – from record remodeling activity to growth in residential and nonresidential construction that has led to a boom in new jobs. Pay has risen for construction workers at its fastest rate since 2009, outpacing the average for other private sector jobs ($30.21 to $27.30).
Yet there’s only so much the industry can grow if there aren’t enough skilled workers to do the work. The labor shortage in the trades is a well-documented one, stemming from a loss of jobs in the Great Recession and a skilled generation of baby boomers retiring and not being replaced fast enough. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 317,000 unfilled construction jobs in August – a post-Recession high. Eighty percent of contractors said they had trouble finding hourly craft workers and 56% said they had trouble finding salaried workers, according to an August 2018 survey by the Associated General Contractors of America. The issue has even been showcased in pop culture, with the “Dirtiest Man on TV,” Mike Rowe, addressing it.
Building materials marketers can address the workforce shortage in several ways:
Below we focus on key audiences to address in workforce development campaigns and some of the messaging that works for them.
Marketing to Gen DIY and the Minecraft Generation
Attracting young talent is a key way to fill the worker shortage in the trades. Millennials are known for their do-it-yourself spirit, dubbed by some as Generation DIY. They like to build – whether it’s a startup company or craft furniture. For a generation that likes to get its collective hands dirty making things – they’re also sometimes called Generation Maker – attracting them to the trades should be a no-brainer. And watch out for the generation after Millennials, known as Gen Z but also labeled by some as the Minecraft Generation. With these two generations being reared on technology, and even building entire worlds with it, the challenge is how to transfer these skills from the virtual world to the real one.
Other factors have contributed to making the trades look unappealing to young Americans. These include the trades’ blue-collar image (an image propagated by Hollywood), and the myth that the trades are low-paying.
To solve the worker shortage, marketers must speak to the next generation’s concerns. Trade industries and buildings materials manufacturers have begun to focus on these pain points. Take, for example, Project Build Minnesota, a project whose brand work, website and creative campaign were created by Bolin Marketing. After extensive research interviews of people at industry associations, organizations, building materials companies, as well as vo-tech teachers, high school guidance counselors and young trades workers, Project Build Minnesota launched a plan – which includes a creative campaign, supported by a website and social media marketing – to “make the next generation of building professionals.” Marketing primarily targets people ages 14 to 22, but also focuses on returning veterans, college dropouts and parents of children exploring career options. And the project emphasizes some of the biggest concerns of young Americans: being debt-free and having a good work/life balance. As the project’s website puts it, “ those who join the trades will be paid more, receive more benefits and enjoy better lifestyles than at any other time in history. While your friends flip themselves upside down with school debt pursuing the next shiny digital trend, you’ll begin your career debt free.”
Attracting Women and Minorities
Women and minorities are also good labor pools to draw from to solve the building trades worker shortage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up just 9.1% of the construction workforce, while African-Americans are 6.1% and Asian-Americans are 1.9%. These demographic groups represent huge growth opportunities.
For women, marketers are beginning to recognize that they must fully grasp their needs and concerns, if they want to entice them to a career in the building trades. One way is through promoting the fact that construction is ahead of most other industries in the pay gap – women make 95.7 cents on the dollar compared to men, much better than their 81-cent average overall. Family is also a top concern, and the trades are taking note. In 2017, the Iron Workers union became the first of the building trade unions to offer paid post-delivery maternity leave.
Women and minorities are increasingly showing up in marketing campaigns, a smart strategy for savvy building materials manufacturers and associations.
Are You Experienced?
While marketers surely need to look to the future, they can’t forget about the current workforce. Messaging must appeal to the worker’s lack of time, and how a product might help someone whose resources are stretched thin. Experienced workers might want products that are easy to use. At the same time, newer workers will need both ease of use as well as training programs.
Building materials manufacturers need to understand and help alleviate one of the biggest challenges of their customers – that they can’t find enough skilled labor. Bolin Marketing has decades of experience with this issue and can help manufacturers develop marketing strategies and messaging to win business. To find out more, give us a call. We’ll also be attending the IBS and KBIS Shows in February. Let’s meet.