Construction workers
Construction companies like Bodei's are facing a worker shortage despite good wages. Pixabay

Michael Bodei, a New Jersey homebuilder offering six-figure salaries to workers, says construction is a well-paying career path that doesn't require a college degree, and businesses are eager to hire.

In fact, the construction industry offered a quicker path to his desired income more than law school, the other option Bodei considered 31 years ago. His family has been with the construction trade for generations, so Bodei witnessed firsthand the profitability of building luxury homes in wealthy suburbs.

By 22, Bodei launched Bodei Contracting, his general and building contracting company, in Morristown, New Jersey. Three years later, his success in construction translated into a luxurious lifestyle: A lake house, a boat, a Corvette, a motorcycle, and not just one, but two trucks.

"It wasn't because I was a genius; it was easy to get into my business and be successful," Bodei told Business Insider. Back then, entering the construction business and thriving was much easier, he noted. Houses were cheaper; resources were plentiful – it was simply a more favourable climate for entrepreneurs.

Workforce Shortage

Bodei attributes his success to "more skilled, less expensive labour." Most of his employees, a core team of around a dozen that expands to 30 during peak seasons, have been with the company for decades.

Bodei specialises in high-end renovations and additions for luxury homes valued between $2 million and $5 million (£1.60 and £3.99 million). Typically, their projects involve six-figure kitchen and bathroom upgrades, requiring a highly skilled workforce.

This is why Bodei prioritises hiring experienced professionals with at least a decade of experience. According to Bodei, the national construction worker shortage makes hiring even more challenging.

"There is no one to replace us," Bodei lamented. A lack of younger skilled workers means no one's coming up the ranks to replace them. Understandably, he worries that as experienced workers retire, their valuable expertise will disappear.

"It's unusual for anybody under 40 to be working for us; people under 50 are unusual," he said. "One of our carpenters is in his 70s." This lack of younger workers is compounded by the underrepresentation of women in the industry – a 2023 Bureau of Labour Statistics report found women make up only three percent of the global construction workforce.

Restrictive zoning laws coupled with building regulations are major contributors to rising housing costs. Additionally, a shortage of construction workers is adding fuel to the fire. With fewer workers available, residential construction slows down, leading to a supply shortage that drives home prices.

Even Bodei's affluent clientele hesitates at the elevated prices, which are further fueled by rising construction material costs. "There's a limit to what anyone's going to pay," he said. Even wealthy people get to a point where it becomes ridiculous."

A Skills Gap That's Been Widening for Years

The US construction industry grapples with a severe worker shortage due to the 2008 housing market collapse. Despite a rebound in demand for housing and infrastructure, many workers left the field during the crisis and have yet to return.

A January 2024 news release from the Associated Builders and Contractors reports the construction industry is currently experiencing a workforce deficit of approximately 500,000. This shortfall is on top of their usual hiring requirements.

Immigration restrictions are a contributing factor. Recent data shows that more than 6.3 million migrants have been detained crossing into the US illegally with Biden in office. However, a more structural cause lies in shifting from technical and trade schools to universities.

"We need to get more people interested in construction as a career," Ken Simonson, chief economist at the Associated General Contractors of America, recently said in an interview.

Adding that everyone from the federal government to school guidance counsellors needs to "get the message to kids that there are lucrative rewarding — both financially and in satisfaction — careers in construction. You don't have to go to college for a good career."

Construction jobs are often seen as physically demanding and need more flexibility in remote or hybrid work arrangements, which are becoming increasingly popular. This makes construction less attractive than it might have been in the past.