We are continuously inundated with contractors’ complaints regarding the inability to find technicians. Whether it be in trade publications, at contractor meetings, or industry conventions, the topic of finding individuals who are willing to work in the skilled trades is usually one of the first to be discussed. While there are undoubtedly a number of factors which lead to this problem, there are two possible solutions I believe the industry needs to consider in order to change the landscape for our future workforce.
The first has to do with perception. For the last several decades, the education industry has done an excellent job of selling the public on the fact that it is absolutely necessary for everyone to have a college degree. What apparently has not been taken into consideration is whether or not there is going to be a demand in the workforce for all of these well-educated college graduates.
The number of adult children living back at home has doubled in the last 20 years. So now, many of them owe an exorbitant amount in student loans, but they can’t find a job to pay them. That is certainly a problem.
Those who do find employment in their chosen field often realize that the 9-to-5 desk job really isn’t suited for their talents. Regardless of the education system’s push for the college degree, the truth is that there are still many young people out there who find much more satisfaction, and are happier with their lives, when they are working with their hands.
The skilled trades need to pool their resources and begin a campaign to educate youngsters — certainly as early as middle school, but maybe even elementary school — about the benefits of entering a skilled trade. At this point, it isn’t important whether they choose mechanical, electrical, or plumbing. What’s important is that they see the skilled trades as an opportunity.
The skilled trades have so many benefits to offer. Apprentice training programs are typically paid for by the contractors, so post-education debt is not an issue. In many of the apprentice programs, the apprentices are even paid while they attend training. A significant benefit is the fact that most apprentice programs are designed for placement. This means that if students apply themselves and show their willingness to work, they are almost always guaranteed a job upon completion of the program.
The skilled trades also offer some of the finest in wages, health care and welfare coverage, pensions and/or 401(k) retirement programs, and more. For some reason, the mechanical trades have been afraid or unwilling to promote that the wages and benefits provided far exceed many jobs that appear to be more prestigious. This fact needs to be promoted and not hidden.
One other thing that the skilled trade associations must promote is mobility within their workforce. Young people who are interested in the trades must understand that it may take a relocation for them to find the work they desire. Just as many, if not most college students leave home to attend their college or university, young people interested in the trades need to consider leaving home to train for the professions they desire. For example, here in St. Louis, we have approximately 200 qualified candidates on our apprentice waiting list; however, we are aware of areas within a few hundred miles where there is a shortage of manpower. With a little relocation incentive, those companies could be thriving, and so could the individuals who make the move to take the job.
These are just two suggestions for things that could be done to increase our future workforce. One thing is for certain though: If we don’t do something about the labor shortage soon, it’s only going to get worse.
Publication date: 3/25/2019
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