Skilled Trade Worker Shortage? Skip College and Learn a Trade

There continues to be an overall skilled trades worker shortage in America; or a skills gap. While getting your 4-year college degree seems to be “all the rage”, the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor & Statistics show that skilled trades such as welders and electricians once again top the latest list of the most difficult-to-fill job openings. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for all construction and extraction occupations was $47,430 in May 2019. That surpasses the median annual wage for all occupations ($39,810) by $7,620. That’s around a 20% increase.

The Trade Worker Shortage and Skills Gap

The lack of skilled trade workers has shifted from an emerging dilemma to an ongoing one. It seems largely the result of an educational system that continues to diminish the value and job satisfaction of working in the various trades. There is also a lack of communication about the benefits of working in trades and the often lucrative pay scales associated with being an electrician, carpenter, plumber, welder, etc.

Without serious influence and changes to how we view and run education, this ongoing “skills gap” can only get worse. This, in an industry already short on help. It isn’t uncommon to have a lot of job openings go unfilled for lack of qualified or willing candidates, even at times of high unemployment.

In a recent report by AGC and Sage Construction and Real Estate, 75% of those surveyed expected to add workers in 2020. The problem? 81% found it extremely difficult to fill open positions, and a majority anticipated even more difficulty in 2021 and beyond.

Skilled Trade Worker Positions in High Demand

The list of high-demand trade worker positions (and not getting filled) includes the Skilled Trades as well as IT staff, mechanics, nurses, and machinists. The Skilled Trades category includes, among others, construction workers, bricklayers, and electricians.

Based on this and similar reports we’ve read over the years, American employers seem to have more difficulty filling positions than their worldwide counterparts. This could be due to the American focus and glorification of college degrees and white-collar jobs. It often leads young people to expect a lot more for a lot less.

Making up for the Trade Worker Shortage

Companies, lacking enough skilled trade workers, turn to a variety of solutions when filling the skills gap. This leads to a need to deal with a two-pronged attack: losing workers to attrition and retirement and dealing with new workers who have less experience.

Many larger firms turn to internal investments to try and compensate. This includes using technology in new ways to reduce dependency on skilled workers or a depleted labor force; technology such as 3D printers, BIM (building information modeling) systems, drones, robotics, and more are often employes in an effort to slow this problem.

The other side of this involves changing construction methods to reduce labor. This may include pre-building components or the use of more serialized or simplistic construction methods.

How Do We Solve the Skills Gap?

  1. Encourage communication and education about the trades to young people, particularly at the middle school levels. You can do this by volunteering to speak at local schools or at your local school board meetings as an advocate. This really needs to occur before 9th grade when kids begin locking in plans to attend college.
  2. Spread the news to your friends and family. You have one voice, make it count. The trades offer a lot of job satisfaction. With the current deficit of workers, being a trade worker can help young people quickly earn decent money for a job well done.
  3. Educate young people on the true cost of college. College is for some—not everyone. On-the-job training and trade schools, however, typically cost far less than an average college degree. That even goes for community colleges. By entering the trades, young people can begin earning money sooner. They also pay down less student debt. Put it together, and they can bring their earned income to a much higher level more quickly.
  4. Hire young people and prepare your own company to educate and grow job skills. You have to walk the walk if you want the industry to change. Prepare your company for the patience, training, and programs required to encourage young people in the skilled trades.