Although there has been a perception that there is limited innovation in construction and the MEP trades, the reality is quite different. There have been advances in construction technology all along, and we are now seeing an increase in the momentum of investment in construction tech.
The trades today are in a unique position. Emerging from the pandemic, nearly every industry has a renewed interest in technology investment and a focus on our country’s infrastructure. Jobs are becoming more technical in terms of software and innovations. When you couple that trend with the fact that the baby-boomer generation is starting to age out of the work force across all professions, you realize that the impact of those trends will be acutely felt by the trades, because a significant portion of jobs in the skilled trades are held by baby-boomers. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of a construction worker is around 43, and the average age of an HVAC technician is 55.
So now is the right time for the trades to take the initiative and attract employees to a career with earning potential and professional fulfillment. What’s needed is to revamp the perception of the trades and get people to take a second look at the world of industrial artistry. Cultural and societal expectations around the skilled industrial trades need to change.
Vocational training has been undervalued for half a century. High school classes like wood shop and metal shop are no longer common, if they exist at all. Thus, younger generations are not being exposed to those types of skilled career options. They are not educated on how fulfilling building and making can be. Instead, the narrative has been perpetuated that these are “dirty” and unsafe jobs. With the many recent advancements in safety within the industry, at least that interpretation can begin to change.
The perception of skilled trades needs to be elevated. There’s nothing wrong with going to college to get a four-year degree if it’s the best fit. Just as there are only so many NFL jobs to go around, there are also only a limited number of “cool” jobs like game developers, cloud architects or CEO of Amazon. On the other hand, there are highly successful trades people with fulfilling jobs and great earning potential.
Sometimes college graduates find out too late that white collar jobs are not the only career path for making good money during their lifetime. Quite a few graduates with a four-year college degree do not end up making the kind of salary they envisioned nor having a solid career. One study found that nearly half of college graduates land a job in a field that didn’t require a college degree. Plus, they are saddled with loan debt from their schooling. Conversely, career technical education can include union apprenticeships replacing four-year college degrees. An earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship program enables the learner to look forward to excellent earning potential without debt.
Hopefully an awareness is evolving that the trades play a critical role in making every other industry work. They have already been recognized internationally as “essential” workers. There would be no white-collar world without the blue-collar workers. Their jobs are an important investment in building, operating and maintaining the world around us.
On a recent episode of the Bridging the Gap Podcast, Christopher Brenchley of the “Rock the Trades” movement came on to discuss how we can come together as an industry in order amplify the message and potential of the trades. Listen today.