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The Seasonal Roller Coaster of Jobs in Construction

The economic downturn in construction has been fueled largely by over-building of larger scale homes. If you've worked in this industry for years, you know that construction of new homes virtually stopped for a while, forcing many in the industry to work fewer hours for less pay - or not at all. Fortunately, signs of revival in the real estate market have led to a moderate recovery in demand for new homes in some markets, but the industry overall is still depressed, limiting employment options. That said, there are ways to gain construction employment as the market slowly rebounds.
To be sure, two conditions have traditionally affected construction work that makes it tougher for industry veterans to change industries and work year-round:

  • The on-the-job training emphasized in construction teaches valuable industry skills – those useful for building – but tends to be industry-specific; the skills learned are useful for construction work, but are of limited value for other occupations.
  • It’s very difficult to build during the colder months. The inclement weather interferes with building processes to the extent that construction generally takes place from early spring through late autumn. There are exceptions, which include building interiors, but the seasonable aspect of construction makes steady, year-round work very difficult for many, except the most skilled.

    These conditions combined with the economic downturn magnify the dilemma of steady construction work. While there should be increasing need for construction jobs as the real estate market improves, economists say it will be a slow recovery. Thus, the prospect of finding alternative work becomes a greater reality for those currently without work or seeking to enter the industry. Several factors affect this reality:

  • Newer, more complex technology, often involving heavy construction equipment, is now commonly in use; few entry-level workers have these skills, limiting their options for advancement or longer-term work.
  • Incumbent workers not at the master's level similarly lack these more contemporary construction skills, and may be let go more readily than those who have improved their skill-set.

Potential Solutions

Preparing for seasonal slowdowns and the longer-term changes in the construction workplace is necessary, but requires preparation. How do you make sure you get that call back when the season returns? Among various factors that need your attention are:

  • Finding substitute work. Ideally, you'll find something construction related, but anything that draws a legitimate paycheck is worthwhile in the short-term. Warehousing or driving a cab, for instance, to provide a steady paycheck. These are jobs you don't have to keep forever, but they will help pay your bills and put groceries on the table.
  • Get more training. This depends on your level of construction skills and whether you'll be back at work soon. It is useful to obtain professional feedback about how you might improve your working skills to enhance your options for longer-term employment. Industry organizations may offer training updates; classes at community or professional schools can also be helpful, not only for construction jobs but to prepare for work in other fields should leave the industry. To ensure job longevity, iit helps to improve your management and leadership skills as much as possible.
  • Appropriate financial planning. Make certain your finances are in order. This will require planning, including reduced spending, to ensure your savings aren't depleted. You'll want a least a little cushion to tide you through. Take responsibility for assuring it’s there.
  • Health and fitness. Its necessary to make sure you're in shape to return to work when the opportunity arises. Belonging to a gym is useful but costly, and may be one of the first expenses cut when seasons change. Exercise at home, at least enough to face the new workday when it comes your way.

Until current economic conditions improve, the construction industry likely won't provide the same level of career opportunities it once did. The traditional seasonal aspect of construction work – finding other jobs during the colder months when construction slows – has been complicated by the recession. Training to improve your skills, particularly with respect to new construction technologies, may lead to improved work prospects in the future as we all await the industry's full recovery.

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