The conditions in construction firms are not as challenging as they used to be. Why are young people nowadays unwilling to join them?

The conditions in construction firms have improved significantly compared to a decade ago, and the environment has also seen some enhancements. Why are young people today reluctant to work on construction sites, to the extent that even the once-prestigious civil engineering program no longer attracts any applicants?

Previously, it was about enjoying the dividends, but now it’s about consuming the capital.

In the past, when the department had a gathering with more than a few people, they could spend thousands of yuan without hesitation. Nowadays, for gatherings exceeding 500 yuan, one must submit a report beforehand.

In the past, when it came to expenses like foot massages, baths, or spa invoices, we could simply close our eyes and seek reimbursement. Now, the invoices must not include cigarettes, alcohol, or tea, and the per capita meal expense should not exceed 60 yuan.

In the past, employees would undergo health check-ups only 1-2 times a year. Nowadays, it’s possible to have health checks 1-2 times a day.

Previously, going to work relied on self-discipline, and it was perfectly fine to spend a whole day in the dormitory if there was nothing to do. Now, employees have to use facial recognition to clock in four times a day.

In the past, bosses would try various means to give gifts to project-related personnel. Nowadays, bosses are trying to find ways to collect money from projects.

Previously, project managers used to say, “We are like brothers,” but now they might say, “You better get lost; there are many people waiting to replace you.”

In the past, those with diplomas from technical colleges could secure formal jobs, but now even postgraduates are coming in to take those positions.

Previously, property owners, the contracting party, and supervisors didn’t know much about construction. Nowadays, property owners are all experienced in construction.

In the past, you could proudly tell your friends that you work in construction, and your back would remain straight. Now, there are no opportunities to even mention it, let alone brag about it.

In the past, there were no WeChat groups, but in QQ work groups, you could argue endlessly. Now, WeChat groups are the norm.

In the past, during the Spring Festival, projects would distribute generous red envelopes. Now, during the Spring Festival, all I hope for is not to rush the work, so I can leave early. Please don’t assign me to be on duty.

In the past, there wasn’t such an abundance of information, whether online, offline, through apps, or on computers. The content and timing of data had to be logical, and the uploaded photos had to meet the requirements, including watermarks.

In the past, government departments served projects, but now government departments exist to serve their superiors, to showcase their own value, and to make every effort to create difficulties for the projects, without any exceptions.

In the past, there were fewer people on projects, and the cost of living was lower. You could eat stir-fried dishes and drink alcohol at the canteen every day. Now, supervisors, contracting parties, and property owners all come to enjoy free meals and drinks. As a result, the meager meal allowance deducted from the wages is simply not enough. The quality of food we eat every day is worse than that of the laborers.

In the past, project accommodations had 3-4 people per room, and it’s still the same now.

In the past, projects used instant water heaters for showers, with hot water available at any time but high electricity consumption. Now, in order to reduce costs and increase efficiency, they have switched to air-source water heaters. During winter, after work, people rush to get hot water, and if you’re late, you won’t even be able to take a shower.

In the past, monthly salaries were over 10,000 yuan, while housing prices were just over 6,000 yuan. Now, monthly salaries are around 6,000 yuan, while housing prices have risen to over 10,000 yuan.

In conclusion, it’s actually the disappearance of dividends, and the advantages compared to other industries no longer exist, leading to significant psychological gaps, resulting in anxiety, insecurity, and even despair.

In the past, construction companies thrived in the market environment, making substantial profits with profit margins of ten or twenty percent. This allowed not only the construction company but also subcontractors and teams to benefit. In the construction industry, whoever had the money was in charge, and if your subcontracting made money, as a management person in the main contracting company, your work would proceed smoothly. Therefore, communication among construction supervisors, subcontracting managers, and teams was not as difficult as it is now. It was generally harmonious on both the upper and lower levels of a project, work proceeded smoothly, subcontractors cooperated well, and people’s mood was not too oppressive.

Nowadays, after going through a period of rapid industry decline, many small and medium-sized private companies are facing closure. Even when they manage to secure projects from major real estate companies like Evergrande, Country Garden, Zhengrong, and Sunac, delayed payments from the contracting party become the last straw that overwhelms these companies. Those that can still survive are struggling to make ends meet. To keep the business running, they take on projects even when there’s no profit, sometimes requiring substantial upfront investments. In this background and environment, companies naturally tighten their belts, expecting employees to do the same. Concrete pouring cannot exceed the specified amount, office printing must be double-sided, and cafeteria standards are reduced. Year-end bonuses are canceled, among other regulations and requirements. This series of dissatisfactions with rules and requirements accelerates employee anxiety and helplessness. Making a mistake can result in penalties. Furthermore, due to the lack of profit, subcontractors and teams below are also losing money. If there is even a slight quality issue or a problem with safety and cleanliness, they will have their project payments withheld. Therefore, they are not inclined to cooperate. As a young person in a construction company, being unable to control subcontractors and teams below has become the norm in the current industry. Upper management doesn’t listen to your explanations, and you can’t control those below you. There is no good mood left to face daily work.

In the past, construction companies did not have third-party evaluations. At most, the project’s technical quality department organized specialized inspections every week. They simply visited the site more often, conducted actual measurements, and when leaders inspected, they casually summoned subcontracting bosses to bear the blame. Occasionally, they would prepare some engineering documentation, and it was manageable.

Nowadays, construction companies undergo third-party quality evaluations every quarter, third-party safety evaluations, internal monthly inspections, weekly inspections, inspections by the supervising company, and quarterly inspections by the contracting party’s city and regional companies. With 365 days a year, they are almost constantly preparing for inspections. There is no rest, no relaxation. In addition to on-site work, documentation has to be prepared, including various management documents, actual measurements, safety documentation, and more. The workload has increased by more than ten times compared to before.

In the past, construction companies hired people quite casually. Having a bachelor’s or associate degree was sufficient, and if you had a slightly better degree, like a bachelor’s from a well-known university or a master’s from a top university (referred to as “211” in China), you could even aim for a management trainee position in major construction companies like China State Construction Engineering Corporation. “Good employment” was the most frequently discussed phrase among rural parents when it came to the civil engineering profession. After all, they endured years of hard study just for the hope of getting a good job after graduation. Compared to other liberal arts majors, civil engineering indeed offered better job prospects.

Nowadays, in construction companies, even a bachelor’s degree from a well-known university or “211” is no guarantee of entering the real estate industry as a management trainee at major construction companies like China State Construction Engineering Corporation. Whether it’s internal competition or the scarcity of opportunities, the current market environment is challenging. High academic qualifications go to central state-owned construction companies, while those with lower qualifications can only work for small private companies owned by individuals. There is no security, and it’s a tough, tiring job with limited career prospects. Switching jobs is also challenging, and it’s not easy to find a so-called comfortable position. The era when construction companies were considered good employers has changed. It’s not like that anymore.

In the past, in construction companies, even though the idea of becoming a department head in three years, a chief engineer in five years, or a project manager in eight years may sound exaggerated, it was quite achievable for many. Once you became a department head, you had some influence and status within the project department. You didn’t have to personally handle specific practical matters. Becoming a deputy department head was probably the most comfortable position. You had a project manager above to deal with issues and protect you from trouble, and you had department heads and construction supervisors below to do the work. Therefore, in the past, as long as there was hope in a construction company, people would persist.

Nowadays, forget about the three-year department head, five-year chief engineer, and eight-year project manager scenarios. Basically, from the time you join until you leave, you are likely to hold the same position. Promotion means someone else has to leave, and it also means the company has to pay you more. At a deeper level, the company needs to groom future leaders, but this depends on the company continuously securing projects. In the current environment, such guarantees are almost non-existent. Therefore, young people in companies see no hope for promotion, feel that they will still be the same in ten years, and naturally lose the will to persist.

In the end, it’s the disappearance of the construction industry’s dividends. The so-called dividends refer to job comfort, work flexibility, good employment opportunities, and quick promotions. As for working conditions and living area environment, these have always been weaknesses of construction companies and have remained unchanged. Previously, young people didn’t focus on these aspects and were satisfied in other areas. However, as the industry declines, the original weaknesses and shortcomings persist, while the advantages are gradually diminishing. This imbalance in mindset has led to an increasing desire to leave, and the calls to quit have become louder and more prominent.


King’s Game (China Construction Third Bureau, China Railway Fourth Bureau, non-star subsidiaries)

As a construction supervisor, estimator, materials manager, and safety officer for 13 years, the average monthly salary was 8,000 yuan, with a take-home pay of 100,000 yuan.

In the 23rd year at the same level, the average monthly salary remained at 8,000 yuan, with a take-home pay of 100,000 yuan.

The money used to improve conditions in the past, but salaries haven’t increased.

So, who’s willing to do this job?

Building temporary structures worth tens of millions may look good, but it mainly leads to promotions and pay raises for leaders, benefiting them.

For the workers, every month they have to repay their mortgages, and their main form of entertainment is drinking, smoking, and they are so busy that they may not even have time for it.

Did they commit some grave sin in a previous life? Why are they suffering like this in this lifetime on the construction site?

As a seasoned veteran who has been on construction sites for a decade, I’d like to say a few words.

The hardships of the construction site do not lie in the scorching sun, rain, or dusty measurements. The hardships do not lie in dealing with supervisory owners or working year-round without breaks. The true hardships of the construction site lie in being unable to care for one’s children, not being able to support the elderly, having relationships with one’s spouse that feel distant, and receiving wages on an annual basis.

There is hardly any time off. In recent years, some conscientious companies have started implementing centralized vacation policies. For example, they offer ten days of paid leave every three months, which is a sign of gradual progress. However, for the most part, it’s work all year round, 365 days a year. As long as the earth doesn’t explode, construction sites don’t take breaks.

On construction sites, there are four things that bring joy: power outages, rain, strong winds, and the arrival of beautiful women. From this, one can see the way of life for those on construction sites. Most university graduates who arrive at the construction site leave within a month, with a turnover rate of about one-third.

I like to talk about labor laws. In most cases, if labor laws are strictly followed, I dare say that this industry would become much more attractive, with people clamoring to get in.

I hope that one day I can see infrastructure enthusiasts, not infrastructure fanatics. These so-called fanatics are nothing more than fierce beasts raised by exploiting people as if they were cattle or horses, and they are not worthy of admiration.

The environment is quite unfavorable, and wage arrears are the norm. Spending the entire year on projects leaves one feeling numb. In some departments, personal funds are even required as advances. Passing the buck and bureaucratic tendencies prevail, and there is a significant presence of nepotism, which can be quite repulsive.

  1. Returning to the village, you realize you’re the one who’s gotten the darkest tan.

  2. In the past, you mocked your childhood friend for earning a college diploma. But once you stepped onto the construction site, your friend, with an extra year of work experience, became your mentor.

  3. Working tirelessly from dawn till dusk, yet your monthly wage doesn’t surpass five thousand.

  4. While others graduated from university and found refuge in office spaces far from the hustle and bustle, you, a university graduate, immersed yourself in the dust and noise of the construction site.

  5. Migrant workers can pursue whatever work they desire and receive their full wages. Meanwhile, you, with your meager salary of just a few thousand, keep dragging your feet.

Because construction companies inevitably have to deal with a group of neurotic or pretentious individuals, they end up encroaching on your holidays.

I suggest the topic owner personally visit a project under the Shenzhen Municipal Bureau of Construction and witness it for themselves, especially if the supervision is carried out by Zhejiang Jiangnan Engineering Management Co., Ltd.

One factor is that construction sites are still relatively dangerous, and a wise person does not stand under a precarious wall.

Let’s take three places that are often considered more dangerous as examples: construction sites, coal mines, and transportation. Looking at the annual death toll in these three places, we can get a rough idea.

Here is the annual death toll in coal mines (as of 2018):

I also found statistics on coal mine accidents and death tolls from 2016 to 2021 online. It can be seen that the number of deaths in coal mines has been decreasing year by year, and in 2021, it had dropped to just over 100 people:

As for the number of accidents and deaths on construction sites each year, as shown in the graph below, the number of deaths has remained at around 800 people each year (as of 2018), and the crucial trend is still increasing year by year:

Now, let’s look at the annual number of deaths in traffic accidents, using data from the Traffic Management Bureau as the statistical basis. There are approximately 60,000 deaths in traffic accidents each year.

Although the number of deaths in construction sites and coal mines is much lower than the number of deaths in traffic accidents, the number of deaths on construction sites is actually more than twice that of coal mines. It’s indeed comparatively dangerous. After all, in the common perception, being a coal miner is a very hazardous occupation. However, looking at the statistical data, it’s evident that safety measures in coal mines have been effectively implemented, leading to a significant reduction in the number of deaths. In contrast, the number of deaths on construction sites has been increasing year by year.

What do you mean by “not as tough anymore”? How tough is “not as tough”? Stop pretending to be holier than thou. Why should young people be willing to go where it’s “not as tough”? Nobody’s children are raised by stepmothers. There are plenty of stable jobs with weekends off. Why would they choose your construction site, which operates year-round without a break, offers average income, and conditions that aren’t that “tough”? Moreover, what has improved in the conditions of construction sites? Prefabricated houses? They are still cold in winter and hot in summer. Installing air conditioning hasn’t made much of a difference, especially since many projects use second-hand air conditioners to cut costs, which provide poor heating and cooling. The bathrooms are shared and extremely inconvenient. In winter, if you need to use the restroom at night, you need to be fully prepared. The probability of projects being in developed areas is low. Some road and subway construction sites require a two-hour drive to buy a pair of socks. Not to mention the dust at night and the loud unloading noise in the morning, which makes it impossible to sleep! This is what you call “not as tough anymore”! Should young people be willing to go? Would your sons and daughters be willing to go? Ask others after they have contributed to the country’s development!

Because each generation is less capable of enduring hardship than the previous one.

When I first arrived at the construction site, I worked from 7 in the morning until midnight without a day off. After three months, I wanted to quit.

Now, with the working hours from 7 in the morning to 6 in the evening without a day off, three fresh university graduates have just joined, and they are already talking about quitting.

Not being able to endure hardship is a good thing.

What does “better conditions” mean? Accommodation? Meals? Or income?

First of all, the accommodation conditions have indeed improved; nowadays, it’s mostly prefabricated houses, and for projects with better conditions, they even rent houses. The meals have also improved slightly. But these are all superficial…

Most importantly, it’s the income. Our supervisor started working in 1997, and in the first year, he could earn about 50,000 to 60,000 yuan with various bonuses. In the second year, it was around 80,000 yuan. When I started working in 2010, my first-year income was similar to his. However, by 2023, the income of fresh university graduates entering the workforce has only slightly surpassed this level, just a bit… In the first year, it’s around 60,000 to 70,000 yuan, and in the second year, about 90,000 yuan.

In the past, when there were profitable projects, project managers could easily allocate substantial bonuses. But now, bonuses require layers of approvals and declarations. In the past, one person’s income could support a family of four, even though they were rarely home throughout the year. But I earned money, at least with some confidence. Now, money is hard to come by, and there’s no guarantee throughout the year. Family conflicts are bound to increase. Of course, one good thing now is that social security and provident fund contributions are slightly higher than before, and they are paid more promptly. In the past, they were often delayed for several years. When you compare prices, housing costs, and the cost of living and education, do you think construction companies are doing well?

Furthermore, with increasingly standardized management, construction companies are making lower profits and have a lower status. Various management systems from clients, supervisors, and your own company result in more and more tasks for the project department. Originally, there wasn’t much money, and now they have to deal with supervisors, superiors, and various other matters every day, which is even more frustrating. It’s like selling vegetables for a living but having to deal with the mentality of selling something else…

This is the reality on construction sites. In today’s society, if a college graduate works a bit harder and can’t earn these tens of thousands of yuan a year, why would they insist on going to work on a construction site?

When you see this question, the first thing that comes to mind is a statement made by “Glass King” Cao Dewang in 2019 during an interview:

“I really don’t understand young people nowadays. They would rather deliver food than work in a factory, and they don’t want to go into manufacturing."

Cao Dewang mentioned that when he visits factories these days, all he sees are middle-aged people in their forties, rarely any young people.

With the same level of salary, why do many young people prefer delivering food instead of working in a factory?

Cao Dewang’s words highlight the seriousness of the current issue. Young people today would rather deliver food than work in factories. What’s the reason behind this?

We should know that decades ago, it was a sought-after opportunity for workers to find jobs in a decent factory. Some even had to rely on connections to get in. Many young people in rural areas who dropped out of junior high school and didn’t want to study hoped to work in factories to earn money. Back then, getting into a factory didn’t require high qualifications or other strict requirements; as long as you were a normal person, you could get a job. Moreover, working in a factory in the past offered stable income, provided meals and accommodation, and even had other decent benefits.

So, a decade ago, working in a factory was quite popular among young people in rural areas. But as society has continued to develop, today’s young people are less interested in factory jobs. They dislike the monotonous and dull life of factory work and aspire to careers that offer freedom, excitement, and opportunities for development.

They prefer to become food delivery drivers, engage in e-commerce, or even become online streamers. Even if they don’t have a job, they would rather stay at home than go to a factory. Why is this happening?

Rather than saying that young people are giving up on manufacturing, it’s more accurate to say that manufacturing is driving away young people. We can see that over the past few decades of rapid economic development, whether it’s products, marketing, management models, or working environments, everything has been constantly changing.

Looking back at manufacturing, while products and technology have been upgraded, management styles have remained stuck in the past. Treating today’s young people with the same old approach, will it work?

First, because the career perspectives of today’s young people have fundamentally changed; second, because the current job market environment is different, providing young people with more choices.

The recent labor shortage in Guangdong’s manufacturing industry is another illustration. If manufacturing doesn’t change its management style, working conditions, and employee benefits, it’s only natural that they can’t attract workers, even if there’s an abundance of labor.

The three major challenges commonly faced by manufacturing today are each an insurmountable gap for workers.

1. Monotonous and Dull Work

The working environment in manufacturing is quite monotonous and dull. Workers have to endure the deafening noise of machinery every day, as well as the rigid assembly lines. They stand in one place all day, and the work itself is extremely repetitive and uninteresting. Think about it, in today’s diverse and colorful world, how many young people can tolerate such an environment? Many can’t last a week.

Foxconn’s Terry Gou replaced assembly line workers with robots many years ago, not only to save on labor costs but also because such monotonous and dull work makes it difficult to retain employees and creates instability for businesses.

Therefore, manufacturing bosses today should not only focus on cost savings but also on creating a good working environment and atmosphere for employees. This is the most critical thing.

2. Low Salary and Benefits

Many manufacturing companies today still rely on manufacturing for profits and haven’t transitioned to building brands. As a result, company profits are not high, and employee salaries and benefits are inevitably low.

Some companies advertise monthly salaries of 5,000 to 6,000 yuan in recruitment ads, but the actual take-home pay is only 3,000 to 4,000 yuan, including various overtime costs.

Moreover, due to rigid management and poor performance in some manufacturing companies, the management often imposes penalties, delays in wage payments, and other issues. In today’s job market, these factors discourage job seekers and drive them to seek other options.

Therefore, manufacturing bosses today should not only aim to be “Made in China” but also strive to become “Chinese brands” that create profits for employees instead of exploiting them.

3. Limited Growth Opportunities

In manufacturing, the work is repetitive and mechanized, and employees don’t have better growth opportunities. Even if employees work in a certain position for ten or eight years, they come out as novices when changing jobs elsewhere.

This kind of work that can be seen through at a glance is something today’s young people cannot endure.

Moreover, today’s young people are not willing to endure the whims of their bosses and deal with complex interpersonal relationships. If a leader says something they don’t like, they might leave. Why should they tolerate the harshness of such a job?

Therefore, manufacturing bosses must upgrade their industries and technologies. They should delegate simple tasks to machines and provide employees with more growth opportunities.

In essence, limiting employees' growth is limiting the growth of their own companies. Such companies will eventually fade away from the stage of history. It’s not that these young people love delivering food, but they love jobs related to the internet. Delivering food is just a stepping stone to internet-related work. It not only temporarily solves their livelihood problems but also keeps them in touch with external information, giving them hope.

The essence of this is that the structure of society has changed.

Whether it’s food delivery or express delivery, these are new professions that have emerged in the new era.

Each one of us is a product of our times.

The internet age has created many new professions, and young people today prefer jobs related to the internet rather than staying in one place for a lifetime, as the previous generation did.

In the waves of the era, each one of us is just a drop of water.

Of course, working in a factory also has its advantages, such as stability compared to other jobs. But even with stability, why is it not popular among young people?

Traditional manufacturing should reconsider one thing:

**Today’s young people are not the same as those 20 years ago.

Start with a picture; the rest relies on imagination!

  1. Bleak Outlook

The main source of income for construction companies is developers. However, I’ve seen many property developers struggling with debt even before the pandemic. Larger developers like Country Garden and Sunac have readily available debt ratio information on various websites.

To put it bluntly, in the early days, many entrepreneurs, most of whom were in the real estate sector, benefited from government support. Back then, the market was saturated, and the government provided many favorable loan policies due to the development stage China was in. The labor-intensive nature of this industry also resulted in significantly higher incomes for individuals. Even ordinary workers could benefit from kickbacks based on their job roles.

Now, businesses are overburdened, and the available land for construction is decreasing. The country’s infrastructure is also nearing completion. It’s time for a reckoning with entrepreneurs.

However, this reckoning process is not smooth. Entrepreneurs have already divided the profits among themselves and established a certain way of distributing benefits and escaping liabilities. The debt they are required to bear actually exceeds their ability to bear it in terms of current cash flow. Fixed assets are difficult to liquidate in the midst of an economic downturn, so many entrepreneurs are considering running away.

With less available land, nearly completed infrastructure, and a desire to reduce debt ratios, the real estate industry is no longer as lucrative, and construction companies are feeling the pinch. Many people I know have only received their salaries until June of this year, many have been forced to take pay cuts, and many have switched to other industries.

I often say that making people endure hardships is conditional: one, when survival is difficult, as in the case of our grandparents' generation, where not enduring hardships meant not being able to survive, and hardship was a necessity.

Second, there must be substantial rewards. The previous generation willingly endured hardships because they could clearly feel the rewards that followed.

In an era where basic needs can be met, no one wants to do more complicated work for the same income.

  1. Transparent Market Prices

One of the benefits of a transparent market is that it makes it difficult for “black intermediaries” to operate.

In the past, when prices were not transparent, anyone could engage in speculation and become a construction dealer. Because prices were abstract to many people. Now, the prices are clear, including material and labor costs, as well as the unit prices for various procedures. If you call me and another practitioner together, we can give you exactly the same answer.

This is different from media intermediaries. Many media middlemen set chaotic and confusing prices because new bloggers don’t know the prices, or because there is no market price for these things. As a result, prices in the entire industry are now chaotic and disorderly.

So, many young people are now flocking to the internet to access resources, and they are unwilling to put in effort within mature systems.

  1. Deep-Rooted Traditional Habits

In private civil engineering companies, it’s difficult to survive if you don’t treat your boss like a father figure. Most of them belong to the parents' generation, and they have achieved success, so they often establish an authoritarian one-man-rule.

In their eyes, young people must unconditionally obey hierarchical management. Whatever the leader says is always right, and you shouldn’t feel wronged even if the leader is wrong. If the leader wants you to work overtime until a certain time, you have to do it, otherwise you’re seen as “giving up on yourself!”

In state-owned enterprises, this atmosphere is slightly better, and there are more young people. But state-owned enterprises also have the tradition of ranking employees based on seniority.

Do you want to outlast a superior who is three or four years older than you? And then stand out among many of your peers? By the time you reach 35, you’ll find that you still have to give in to others when they’re happy and be punished when they’re not, under the same conditions.

Some say that other industries may also be like this, but even in a 996 work culture, why choose a more uncomfortable industry under the same conditions?

If it’s just about the conditions, then yes, they’ve probably added more air conditioning, installed a restroom, and even added some computers, and the measurement equipment has become more advanced.

But have other things improved? Has the safety accident rate improved significantly? Has income improved? Is rest guaranteed?

Really, I can say that the conditions at the design institute have improved a lot compared to before. There’s air conditioning, no need for hand drawings, computer-aided design, and advanced calculation software. It’s no wonder why even young people are willing to join.

But if you don’t ask the right questions, how can you find the answers?

Are the conditions for construction companies better now? Is it less strenuous? After reading on Zhihu for so long, it seems like no one is saying that working in construction isn’t tough. Nowadays, don’t you use machinery to reduce manual labor, and isn’t everything more comfortable?

My experience working in a construction company ten years ago was extremely tough, and I couldn’t bear it, so I left after working for a little over a year.

1. We rented a village house, with the landlord living on the ground floor. Behind the house were pigsties and a dry toilet, which were very smelly. The second floor belonged to us, with the living room used for office work, mainly drawing blueprints, printing, technical discussions, preparing documents, and writing construction logs. The room where we, the technicians, lived had six single beds, arranged in two rows with a narrow aisle in between, and only one person could pass through at a time.

2. We woke up at 6:30 every morning, washed up, and cooked instant noodles (soy sauce mixed noodles) ourselves in the canteen. At 7:00, we had our morning meeting, and at 7:30, we went to the construction site. This routine was followed almost every day, except when it rained.

3. After loading equipment onto a Great Wall Haval vehicle, the supervisor sat in the front seat, and four colleagues squeezed into the back. The two of us newcomers had to climb into the trunk facing each other in silence, with our necks and legs unable to fully extend. Along with some measuring instruments and tripods, we were all packed into the trunk. The journey took about 45 minutes, and it was incredibly uncomfortable.

4. We often couldn’t return until after 12:00, so we didn’t get to eat until around 1:00. At 2:30 in the afternoon, we gathered again and worked until 7:00 in the evening, when we were transported back to our lodgings. This cycle of being shuttled back and forth every day made us feel like tools.

5. Technicians worked overtime at night to prepare documents and write logs, often working until 10:00. We weren’t allowed to leave before the designated time, but the supervisors spent their evenings playing mahjong and squeezing every ounce of effort from us.

6. During periods of intense work to meet deadlines, a few of us had to work in two shifts. One group worked from dawn to dusk, while the other worked from dusk to dawn. We switched shifts every week, causing our biological clocks and hormonal balances to go haywire. Many of us developed acne and felt extremely uncomfortable.

7. When performing high-altitude measurements, we had to climb over 30 meters up a bridge pier. I’d be hanging from a hook with my feet on it, tightly gripping a steel wire rope, carrying a prism on my back. I’d be hoisted up like that, and there was no protection on the bridge pier. I have a fear of heights, and when I got up there, my legs would go weak, and I wouldn’t dare to stand up, fearing that I might be blown off by the wind.

8. For a period of time, I worked the night shift during winter, where we were doing concrete work. We had to maintain control over elevation levels, which often required working through the night. The only place where we could rest was a makeshift wooden shed. Inside, there was a wooden bed with a smelly cotton quilt on top. During breaks, we would lie on that bed, wrapped in our military coats, and take a short nap.

Every time I think back, it’s like a nightmare. Now, what are the conditions like in construction companies? I’ve been away from construction sites for too long and really don’t know.

Ten years have passed, so what are the conditions like in construction companies now? Can someone in the comments please tell me? Thank you.

The 360 Professions: Not All Office Work

In today’s society, there are fewer things that can be changed through hard work, and the impact of education on one’s life has diminished. Some opportunities are once in a lifetime and may never come again.

We often tease bosses for painting rosy pictures for their employees, but think about it—our parents, teachers, and the media—aren’t they also painting rosy pictures for young children?

Chinese parents and the media create a fictional future for children. The future children aspire to, as depicted by their parents, is a beautiful fairy tale. However, the real world can be harsh.

When we were kids, our parents and teachers often asked us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We’d answer, “Scientist, celebrity, doctor, lawyer, teacher…” These were all prestigious professions instilled in us by our parents. In trendy terms, these professions are considered top-tier in the job market, and only a few exceptionally talented children can reach such positions. Most children are ordinary. You probably haven’t heard a child say they want to be a janitor, nanny, salesperson, waiter, customer service representative, driver, or a civil engineer.

The reality is that once these children enter society, 80% of them will work as delivery drivers, couriers, restaurant servers, cargo handlers, salespeople, or shopping assistants. The remaining 20% may enter office jobs as clerks, various specialists, or technicians. While these jobs may seem glamorous on the surface, the reality of daily life isn’t so optimistic.

Parents and teachers often say they want to give children dreams, but what’s “within reach” are dreams, and what’s “out of reach” are delusions. Dreams can be achieved with proper planning, such as through college entrance exams and career planning, and a portion of the population can eventually achieve their life goals, at least with a reasonable probability of success.

In summary, what we were instilled with from childhood is a lifestyle at the top of the social pyramid. As children grow up, we use all our abilities and resources to provide them with a high-end life that they shouldn’t have, a lifestyle that emulates the rich—eating the best, using the best, wearing the best. We’d rather eat less ourselves than deprive our children.

Children are expected to grow up to wear suits and work in finance, just like what they see on television. However, reality can be quite different, and your child might end up working on a construction site, covered in dust, as a civil engineer.

Parents have illusions, and they can’t accept their children’s mediocrity. They naturally assume that as long as their children enter college, they will have a bright future. They believe that education can change their destiny and enable them to move up the social ladder. Investment in character education far exceeds that in vocational education. We make children learn drawing, calligraphy, musical instruments, dance… These are hobbies that shape their character but offer no competitive skills in the workplace. Of course, these skills can be used to show off at company events. If this money were spent on vocational skills education, it could provide many advantages in the job market.

As a result, we see delivery drivers who play the piano and construction workers who dance in the streets.

Children also have illusions. They believe that the fairy tale world their parents have painted for them is the real world. They are full of confidence about their future. It’s not until they step out of school and into society that they realize what they want is “life.” Achieving the ideal world they imagined seems distant. Families have exhausted all their resources to cultivate them, leaving nothing to support their children’s lives.

The Changing Landscape of Career Choices for Young People

Young people today are less inclined to pursue careers in construction, primarily because they have better alternatives. For instance, the field of artificial intelligence offers more appealing prospects. Why would they choose to work in construction?

It’s true that conditions have improved in the construction industry, and this improvement is not unique to construction; other industries have also seen better conditions and increased compensation. Given these various options, young people naturally gravitate toward the ones that offer the best opportunities.

On the flip side, while conditions have improved in construction, it’s important to note that the rate of improvement in the construction industry is not as rapid as in some other sectors. When making this comparison, it may even appear that construction is falling behind.

In terms of economic profits within the industry, construction and engineering rank lower than industries like natural gas, chemical, food, and machinery. Consequently, there is less profit available to distribute to laborers, leading workers, especially the younger generation, to seek opportunities elsewhere. This trend is even more pronounced in industries like technology, media, and telecommunications (TMT) and information and communication technology (ICT).

The relative decline of the construction industry and the reduction in economic profits are the critical factors here. Without booming growth and substantial economic returns, employers are less inclined to offer high salaries.

[Source: Liu Hualin’s Cross-border OD School: Career Development 1 - Career Planning and Cultivation (2)]

The Changing Landscape of Young Professionals and Construction Industry

Online discussions often revolve around the notion that young professionals are avoiding careers in the construction industry. Perhaps you’ve heard or seen similar sentiments repeatedly. While big data algorithms may recommend content based on our interests, it’s worth noting that these discussions involve various individuals expressing similar concerns.

You might argue that conditions in the construction industry have improved, but it’s crucial to recognize that the world is rapidly changing. Is it any less challenging than before? The answer is likely no. Currently, there’s a growing trend online, questioning the value of enduring hardship. I’d like to ask, would you willingly endure hardships? As the old saying goes, “Through hardship to the stars.” However, after two decades of hardship, have you truly reached the stars? What about those born into privilege? Have they experienced the same level of hardship?

The decline of the construction industry can be attributed to its low output-to-effort ratio. Consider fresh graduates who can now earn over 8,000 RMB per month, which seems quite appealing for newcomers. However, they work nearly 16 hours a day, and even with just four days off a month, those days are not guaranteed. Assuming a full month of work (26 days), their monthly work hours amount to 26 * 16 = 416 hours. Consequently, their hourly wage averages out to 8,000 / 416 = 19.23 RMB per hour. Is that considered high? To put it in perspective, I was paid 35 RMB per hour as a tutor back in 2013. That’s a decade ago, and today, tutoring rates have surged to 60-100 RMB per hour, with some highly specialized tutors even charging 200-300 RMB per hour.

You might argue that these professionals can only work for 2-4 hours per day, which is not as stable as your job. However, consider a stable position like my nephew’s. He graduated from an unknown technical school and works in a factory, tightening screws for 8 hours a day, earning 6,000 RMB per month. He only has a single day off on weekends, working for 26 days a month. Calculating his hourly wage: 6,000 / (26 * 8) = 28.95 RMB per hour.

So, even if you’re a recent college graduate, perhaps from a prestigious university, once you enter the construction industry, you become a subject of exploitation. Despite the impression of middle-class life within construction, your hourly wage may not surpass that of a blue-collar worker. Is this a discouraging reality?

Some argue that there’s a promising future in the construction industry, mentioning promotions and “Three General, Five Major” initiatives. But let me share a sobering fact: a highly-rated third-tier unit within a certain construction company currently has 68 project managers. They are managing 54 ongoing projects, with 24 nearing completion. Additionally, they are set to undertake 16 new projects in 2023. This is the stark reality. With so many project managers and limited projects, can they really promote you?

Moreover, there’s another painful reality. After working for five years, a certain relative of the company’s leadership has already been designated as the project manager for one of the new projects in the “Sixteen New Projects.” While many project managers may hold managerial titles, they are often forced to switch to production or general management roles. As they age, and with increasing family pressures, they must compromise.

Now, let’s consider today’s college graduates. They enjoy the information explosion of this era, allowing them to quickly grasp the basics of any industry. As you mentioned, conditions in construction are not as grueling as they used to be, but it’s well-known that young people today are more informed about this industry than you might imagine.

I recall visiting my hometown, driving a car worth 300,000 RMB, and bringing various gifts for my parents. However, young college graduates from my village don’t envy my profession. Once, Mrs. Zhang from next door wanted her son to discuss career planning with me. Her son had just been accepted into a provincial-level second-tier university. But young Zhang responded bluntly, “I don’t want to talk to him. What does someone working in construction know? I want a career in high-tech!”

Mrs. Zhang was left exasperated. Alas, even rural children are reluctant to join the construction industry. Can the construction industry be saved?

A decade ago, during interviews at state-owned construction units, they often asked: “Are you from a rural or urban area?”

I would respond, “I’m from a rural area.”

Immediately, the interviewers would break into happy smiles and ask, “How many siblings do you have?”

Did you ever feel like they were conducting a census rather than an interview?

Perplexed, I replied, “I have two siblings, and my older brother works as a farmer in our hometown.”

The interviewer would then enthusiastically shake my hand and say, “Congratulations, you’re hired!”

That was the nature of interviews in my time. However, today, such questions have disappeared. The urban-rural divide has narrowed significantly.

In summary, why are young people avoiding careers in the construction industry?

Firstly, the low output-to-effort ratio means working exhausting hours for wages that don’t match the effort.

Secondly, the internet and information age have made young people much more knowledgeable about various industries. When they compare options, why would they choose the construction industry?

Thirdly, urban-rural disparities have diminished. Young people now value freedom, enjoy life, and seek personal space and time, which the construction industry often cannot provide.

Lastly, even if they join the construction industry, the prospects are bleak. No matter how enticing the promises of promotion from leadership, young professionals see through the illusions. This is one of the reasons for the high turnover rate in the construction industry.

So, if you were in their shoes, would you join the construction industry?

The Significance of Professional Choice

Consider individuals A and B, both graduates of prestigious 985 universities. During their undergraduate years, both were diligent in preparing for postgraduate studies. However, their career paths diverged. A pursued a Master’s in Civil Engineering and now earns a monthly salary of a few thousand RMB working long hours in construction or design firms. On the other hand, B, with a Master’s degree in Computer Science, joined a major tech company and earns an annual salary of 300,000 RMB through the demanding 996 work schedule.

It’s important to note that the concept of hardship is relative rather than absolute. Two individuals with similar life experiences can have vastly different outcomes due to their choice of profession. In this scenario, their efforts took on different meanings, where one’s endeavor proved meaningful, and the other’s appeared futile.