Is There a Skilled Trades Shortage?

Is There a Skilled Trades Shortage?

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A massive 79% of construction companies will have to hire more employees in 2019, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. There's a significant shortage of skilled trade workers - and it’s projected to continue as the construction sector expands, more experienced workers retire, and fewer younger employees are available to take their places.

What can you do about a skilled trades shortage that seems to have no end in sight?

How Long Will the Shortfall Last?

The first element to understand is that it doesn't look like this skilled trades shortage is going to resolve itself anytime soon. That same report estimated that the construction industry will only grow its workforce by 0.5-percent annually over the next decade.

Combine this with a population growth that's slowing, a workforce that's aging out of the job, and a concern that younger generations have about the viability of skilled trade careers. It's a perfect storm that's hitting the construction workforce.

The National Electrical Contractors Association offers numbers that are telling. In total, 7,000 new electricians start working every year. About 10,000 retire every year. This means that electricians will typically be older and more expensive to hire, and that clients will have to wait longer for service – or the service will be rushed and of lesser quality.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, the median age of construction workers is older than 40.

Can This Shortage Be Explained?

It's crucial to understand why this is. Millennials aren't necessarily being lazy here. It's easy to buy into that narrative, but it's not accurate. The Great Recession caused intense workforce issues in the construction industry. Between 600,000 and 1 million skilled workers left the industry as a result. 

As millennials were coming of age, they were seeing the construction industry gutted. They witnessed the recession's tremendous impact on an industry they'd been told was reliable. They took that as a lesson that guided them into different career choices.

Of course, the industry's recovered since then. The shortage of skilled trade workers now means that a construction job today is immensely reliable. Yet the damage was already done, and a generation chose to go into different careers.

Dealing with Younger Skilled Workers

It's important that you understand this because it's still a concern that many millennials and Gen Z workers have in their minds. When dealing with questions or concerns from workers about their careers, be aware that they come from a legitimate place. A lot of places online will try to sell you on the idea that these workers don't care, or that they're lazy. Those ideas will help you feel better, but they won't help your business, they won't help you recruit, and they won't help you develop and retain talent.

Take concerns from workers that belong to these generations seriously, because they will ask you about the long-term viability of careers in the skilled trades. You can guide them into additional training and schooling by helping to reassure them. If construction business owners take these concerns seriously, they can help the next generations begin to re-grow the workforce. If they don't, they'll simply confirm the concerns these generations have.

School Budget Cuts

Education cuts mean that schools are much less likely to offer shop and mechanical classes. These are the places where many young adults first began learning a love of the skilled trades. Many students now lack an introduction point. They aren't encountering these programs early, developing a passion for them, or developing confidence in the basic skills that encourage them to learn more.

In other words, there's no pipeline the way there was in the United States for decades before. There's no way to really bring that back without insisting on a public education system that's funded to restart these programs. They can't run these programs without funding and teachers, both of which have seen their numbers drop in recent years.

What Can You Do Now?

There are already some lessons to be learned here. Talk with and encourage the younger workers you do have. If they're interested in apprenticeships and training, or have questions about how to make it work, be willing to give them answers. Help them with connections. Lobby your elected officials to put more money into vocational schools.

That's the long-term answer, and it can help pay off years down the road – especially where you keep in touch with younger workers who train their way up.

In the short-term, you're basically competing with other construction companies over a dwindling workforce. Here's what to do:

  1. Start working with a staffing agency. What you're looking for are people who can broaden the scope of your hiring process, check experience and references (which many businesses skip), and whittle down those applying to your best choices. They can also handle the administrative side of hiring, lifting that weight off your shoulders.
  2. Increase your pay. If skilled workers are deciding between two businesses, the one that gives them better pay or more flexibility will win. This is especially true for commercial contractors competing with residential contractors. Residential contractors have much greater flexibility – if you're a commercial contractor, you'll have to match that or make up for it somewhere else.
  3. Keep in contact with your workers, even after they stop working for you. This doesn't mean you have to be their best friend or devote a lot of time and energy. It just means you should check in on them from time to time and see what jobs they're doing, or if they're looking for work. That way, yours will be the first business they contact when looking for new work.

Labor For Hire is dedicated to connecting the right people with the right businesses. For more information, please do not hesitate to contact us today! When dealing with the shortage of skilled trade workers, you can’t afford to wait.


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