Bridging the skilled trades gap

Millennials have been credited with the destruction of everything from napkins to department stores to marriage. While these younger people have been foregoing homeownership to enjoy the occasional avocado toast, it illuminates the fact that younger generations’ choices outnumber those of older generations and shape the world of tomorrow.

Now, the majority of Millennials have reached their 30’s and settled into the workforce. The spotlight is now on Gen Z as they reach early adulthood and begin to look to the future, what will be different with this new generation entering the workforce?

An early focus on skilled trades

“Beginning in the 1980s, the way we have talked about careers in the skilled trades has been both overtly and implicitly dismissive,” an Area Development story said. “While going to college and continuing education beyond high school is perfectly admirable, there has been a troubling social and cultural stigma associated with not going to college. This idea, reinforced by institutions and individuals across society, has contributed to the erroneous notion that skilled trades professions are somehow less respectable or desirable.”

While most young people have not sought an education in skilled trades, there has been a huge demand to fill vacant positions across the country. But this trend has come along with a decline in programs and resources available to aspiring plumbers, pipe fitters, carpenters, electricians, and other skilled workers.

In a poll conducted by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, 72 percent of students said high schools could do a better job of giving them chances to learn real-world skills, and 79 percent of parents believe their child would be more prepared for a career if they had the chance to study a trade in high school.

Providing more access to education in skilled trades will get students into apprenticeships at younger ages that today’s average, and then into a career faster.

In Arlington, Va. 25 students began learning skills in a brand-new program introduced in Oct. that aims to “close the gap in skilled trade employees.”

“We’ve already built shelves, toolboxes and step stools,” Lesslie Garcia-Castro, a senior at Arlington High School, said to the Arlington Times. “The program allows you to work individually and in groups. I’m happy that once I’ve completed the program, I’ll be able to show a future employer that I have the necessary experience and skills they’re looking for.”

The aging workforce

Why is there such a large focus on training young people for skilled trades?

There are now too many retirees and not enough young people available to replace them. Pair that with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projection of a 10 percent growth in the next nine years for electricians’ occupational outlook, and it becomes clear that the demand for skilled workers is only going to increase.

There are areas already living with the consequences of the skilled worker shortages. In residential areas in Indianapolis, a receptacle was approximately $150, but it is now up to $225-$230. But projects aren’t just becoming more expensive, the waiting period for getting someone to respond to an issue is getting longer and longer.

We will only see this more frequently across the country if enough qualified workers cannot be found. The impact of the skilled labor shortage is not limited to residential areas—construction and development take more time and money. Fewer experienced workers means constructions teams are less efficient and productive.

“I think [the Associated General Contractors of America] said 20 percent of the workforce is going to be retiring in like five to ten years,” Blake Behr, a Central Indiana Independent Electrical Contractors instructor said to WTHR. “So one in five people who are skilled trade – out the door.”

Bored workers are not bad workers

Those young people and their dang social media, it’s like they really don’t care about their job.

Young people find social media more engaging than their job when their job isn’t providing them with enough meaningful work. For some employers, boredom translates to a lack of respect and motivation from their younger employees.

This generation, raised to pick up the torch from the Baby Boomers before them, has a much lower tolerance point where they will mentally check than Baby Boomers. Bringing in a new generation comes with bringing in new protocols and expectations to keep them engaged.

For those who are looking to leave their current role, boredom was recorded as the number one reason to seek a switch at 33 percent reported by a Korn Ferry survey. Only 19 percent leave for a better salary.

Boredom is an issue that translates directly into a loss in revenue. Get ahead of the issue to prevent it from impacting your workplace.

It is important that work is made interesting and meaningful, and those in supervisory positions must keep their staff informed of the impact the role has within the company. Supervisors and managers must also be mindful of their appearance in front of workers. Supervisors cannot be too busy all the time, as that can be seen as unapproachable, but they also cannot be aloof and lacking enthusiasm about their job because that attitude can be contagious to other workers.

Challenge your bored staff. Allow everyone to share mentally stimulating work that involves problem-solving or having a say in a company initiative. Take the steps to make your employees feel seen and valuable to prevent them from losing interest or leaving the position.

Bored workers are not spending more time on their smartphones because they disrespect their superiors. If you are bringing in younger staff who continue to increase their workplace screen time, then it is a sign that changes need to be made to improve on employee engagement.

Gen Z proves to be dedicated to working in skilled trades when the opportunity to train and study is available to them. Removing the stigma surrounding the trades is important to keep necessary jobs going in the future.

“The skilled tradespeople the research focuses on—who keep vital communications networks running, manufacture lifesaving medical equipment, repair vehicles and build the roads we travel on—have been deemed “essential” workers during the coronavirus pandemic,” a Harbor Freight press release noted. “They will likely be just as critical to America’s economic recovery, and, as the research shows, the need and opportunity to train this future workforce—starting in high school—is an urgent one.”

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