Things are improving for the skilled trades in America. A movement is taking place to change the erroneous but popular perception that you have to go to college to be successful. Getting into the trades is an opportunity to make a lot of money and not be stuck in an office all day.
To combat the stereotypes, marketing is needed, and that needs to be improved. The types of skilled trade jobs and earning power need to be communicated, especially to job seekers. A construction jobsite is a lot different than it was 50 years ago.
With the great resignation combined with a high rate of retirement, the average age in the construction industry is higher than most sectors. A skilled labor gap already exists, and it is complicated by the looming shortage of four million housing units in America. To add to that, the new federal infrastructure bill intends a trillion dollars’ worth of infrastructure construction over ten years. That will undoubtedly complicate and aggravate the situation.
We cannot solve the skilled labor gap overnight. It will take time.
There are many possibilities for careers in the trades, including starting your own business. But in order to attract the next generation of trades workers, the careers need to appeal to them. Rebranding is needed, with reeducation of parents and teachers around the trades.
Through focused programs for students in construction, we may be able to shift perceptions. Students need more exposure to the trades and the construction industry. It could help make up for the grievous loss of woodshop and metal shop classes in most high schools. It’s also a way to show students the sense of achievement from crafting something with your hands. Upcoming generations have been influenced so heavily by technology that they may have never experienced that.
Apprenticeships, internships and summer programs can involve students in a trade early in their career path. Some companies offer paid training and courses for entry level positions in a trade. Training and education can be tools for both recruiting and employee retention.
Once the information is provided, students still need to make the decision to go into a trade. Fortunately, there are many options for careers, from gritty, character-building labor to transportation, purchasing, payroll, shipping/receiving, and marketing, to name just a few. Some blue collar jobs already pay substantially more than those of degreed office workers. In the future, that is likely to be even more prevalent.
The near future of the skilled trades labor market looks tough. It may get worse before it gets better. Hopefully within a decade it will be a different world, where perceptions have changed. The message needs to expand beyond the construction orbit to new audiences, so we’re not just talking to ourselves about our problem.
The labor problem affects everyone in the industry. There needs to be a unified effort from schools, unions, trade contractors, construction companies, and training facilities to encourage more people to enter the trades. A unifying effort starts with parents and teachers and expands to the rest of the industry, for a concerted effort to attract the next generation. When everyone concerned participates in the strategy, it can get done better together.
Listen to episode 134 of the Bridging the Gap podcast with guest David Broomhead of Trade Hounds for more insights.