Our industry is missing out on a prime source of skilled labor, but it’s not entirely our fault.

At an industry conference earlier this year, I sat in the conference center hallway to review afternoon breakout sessions that were starting in a few minutes. I saw one titled something like “Attracting and Retaining Millennials into the Workforce” and decided that was a topic I needed to learn more about. When I walked in, I was stunned: Every seat was filled and people were standing three-deep on three sides of the room. I elbowed my way into a corner, only to hear what many of us already know: Attracting and retaining millennials is as big a challenge as our industry has faced as this generation’s traits and preferences continue to puzzle human resource departments nationwide.

Now the popular business press reports an even bigger issue related to millennials: Men are missing. Ten years after the Great Recession, 25-to-34-year-old males are lagging in the workforce more than any other demographic. About 500,000 more would be punching the clock today had their employment rate returned to pre-downturn levels. That’s unfortunate, because they’re missing out on a hot labor market and crucial formative years, ones traditionally filled with the promotions and raises that build a strong foundation for a career.

Men, who many say have long been America’s economically privileged gender, have been dogged in recent decades by high incarceration and disability rates. They hemorrhaged high-paying jobs after technology and globalization hit manufacturing and mining. But young men have fared particularly badly. About 14% of 25-to-34-year-old males with just a high school degree weren’t in the labor force in 2016, up from 6.4% in 1996. Many exited high school into a world short on middle-skill job opportunities and were then broadsided by the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Employment plummeted across the board from 2007 through 2009, but young men fell far behind their slightly older counterparts and haven’t caught up. Millennial males remain less likely to hold a job than previous generations, even as women their age work at higher rates.

Their absence has economic and social consequences. Loss of talent slows innovation. Young people who get a rocky start in the job market face a lasting compensation penalty. Economists partly blame the decline in employed marriageable men for the recent slide in nuptials and increase in out-of-wedlock births. Those trends foster economic insecurity among families, which could worsen outcomes for the next generation.

It’s difficult to know if young men want to remain on the sidelines or are kept there by a dearth of attractive options. They could be choosing to stay home or enroll in school because high-paying, non-degree jobs in industries like manufacturing are fewer and farther between. But it isn’t clear why lost opportunity would hit this demographic hardest.

Other social changes could be exacerbating the trend. Better video games might make leisure time more attractive, some economists hypothesize; and opioid use might make many less employable. Young adults increasingly live with their parents, and cohabitation is also more prevalent in this demographic.

So the question looms: Is the group’s employment decline permanent? Our challenge is to recalibrate the industry’s approach to recruiting and retaining millennial males and find a way to permanently integrate them into the workforce. Given our labor challenges, we can ill afford to overlook this critical demographic.

 

Pierre Villere Pierre Villere

Pierre G. Villere has been a contributing editor for The Concrete Producer for over a decade, and serves as the President and Senior Managing Partner of Allen-Villere Partners, an investment banking firm with a national practice in the construction materials industry. He has a career spanning more than four decades, and volunteers his time to educating the industry through his regular articles and presentations. Contact Pierre via email.