Construction employment is still strong in the Lehigh Valley according to David Sload, president and CEO of ABC Keystone, a construction industry advocacy organization.
There has been some pullback in the industry with inflation and higher interest rates, but Sload said the demand for new buildings is so high, most employers in the construction industry are still actively recruiting workers.
“We still have a lot of companies looking for skilled trades people,” he said. “We are still short on employees in our industry, and we have an aging workforce.”
According to 2021 statistics from the Workforce Board Lehigh Valley there were 11,149 people employed in construction in Lehigh and Northampton Counties.
The average salary was nearly $72,000 per year.
While the industry has historically had a reputation for low starting pay, with increasing salaries, there has been renewed interest in careers in construction, which was a sector hit badly by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said when retail stores began dramatically increasing their salaries to lure workers back to their stores, it drove some people away from working construction.
“If I can go work for Sheetz for $18 an hour, why would I want to work out in the cold and snow for less than that?” he said.
In 2023 the average salary is closer to $30 to $34 an hour and employers are investing in workforce development to help employees get on a career path that they can succeed in.
“We are seeing apprenticeship numbers continue to grow to record levels,” Sload said.
Younger workers are going for training and certifications and companies are willing to train the people they hire.
Besides the industry exodus during the pandemic, the aging workforce is also a major concern in construction.
“The institutional knowledge we’re losing is huge,” Sload said. “But the good news for those entering the industry is that they are moving up much faster than before.”
ABC Keystone offers apprenticeship training in nine different trades, but electrical has always been the most popular construction career because it’s so diverse and requires more specialized people in the trade.
He noted that electrical work isn’t just running line in new construction but developing solar arrays and working on low voltage projects such computer and communications infrastructure installation and maintenance.
Sload said ABC Keystone is trying to help fill the need for skilled workers in the construction industry with education and advocacy.
ABC Keystone has been working with middle school students, giving them hands-on activities to help them learn construction industry skills ranging from building a bench to wiring an electrical circuit.
Over the past five years the chapter has worked with 450 middle school students, which Sload said he hopes at least some of which pursue a career in construction.
“We have our fingers in a lot of things. We’re always expanding what we’re doing with awareness,” he said.
For the near future Sload said he expects there to be a strong demand for skilled tradespeople in construction.
“The wild card is what’s going to happen in six months with the interest rates. Will it slow things down? Will it put projects on hold?” Sload said he doesn’t know, but he does see material prices already coming down and he strongly believes the industry is healthy and is still a good career path for young people.m