Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Modular Housing Works Hard to Train a New Generation

One of the biggest advantages of the modular housing industry is often the most overlooked, a skilled labor force. While owners and management may change several times a year at the factories, the men and women working on the production side of the industry are usually long term employees who have honed their work skills over the years.

New hires on the production line usually start working beside experienced workers who take pride in their job and pass along this great work ethic to the trainee. Many plumbers and electricians got their start in a modular home factory. Drywallers, trimmers and framers learned all the proper ways to accomplish their job from their experienced coworkers and nothing expresses a worker’s ‘pride’ like a module leaving a station heading to the next knowing they did their best.

However, a skills gap is hobbling construction and it’s delaying building projects, shrinking building inventories, and inflating the cost of homes and home-related projects. The knowledge and skills necessary to repair our toilets, install our furnaces and build our houses are dying on the vine. And, unless we want our grandkids growing up in primeval teepees, we need to work quickly to fix it.

While America’s housing market is recovering, the on-site construction industry has struggled to catch up. Nationwide, the median price for existing and new single-family homes for sale shot up more than 8% during the past year. The rise, in part, signals good news in that the housing market has continued to recover from the 2008 financial crisis, but prices are also being driven up by a growing shortage of homebuilders and home improvement professionals.

This trend has been building up for years. In the 1990s, the American educational system (no doubt with the best of intentions) discontinued vocational classes and began to encourage all students to pursue a four-year college degree, creating significant, if unintended, consequences. First, fewer students were exposed to career options in the skilled labor trades. Second, the profound emphasis placed on college-level education perpetuated the notion that skilled (i.e., blue-collared) labor entails physically demanding, yet mindless work. And third, industry succession responsibilities were transferred to business owners lacking the time and resources required to fully train and educate would-be workers.

Modular housing runs into the same lack of skilled workers but usually within a very short period of time, the new hires, working side by side with experienced long term workers are prepared to continue the skills and work ethic they learned in modular housing.

A lesser-debated, but no less impactful, contributor to the skilled labor shortage has been an ever-widening generational gap in the skilled labor workforce. During the recent housing recession, fewer young people were hired.  As a result, the percentage of 45- to 55-year-olds employed in the construction sector has exceeded the employment share of this age group in all other industries. Increasingly, these older workers are aging out of the workforce altogether.

The next time you look at a modular home being set at the jobsite, remember all the young people working and learning in a modular home factory and doing a great job.


Anonymous said...

Very well said.

Anon said...

Good article. I learned alot over the years being mentored by my experienced coworkers. Many of those in management positions today started out working on the plant floor.

Anonymous said...

the paucity of young skilled trades is true and tragic. it is civilization in decline when the tradesmen is denigrated. we have paid dear for this arrogance.

it is good to see some positive movement. does anyone know how the factories are dealing with piss tests given a nation of week smoking youngsters soon to be in a weed legal world. ?