Good help remains hard to find.
According to the most recent jobs report, the US economy added 339,000 jobs in May. Even while unemployment ticked up to 3.7%, it remains at a historic low, even in the face of rising interest rates and a cooling housing market.
Demand for skilled labor is even higher. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there will be about 48,600 openings for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters each year over the coming decade. Demand for plumbers is expected to grow by 14% from 2018 to 2028—much faster than the average for all occupations—and supply is not keeping pace with demand. The shortage could cost the US economy billions.
With the Baby Boomers reaching retirement, all eyes turn to the next generation to pick up the wrenches. Meet two young men making careers for themselves to learn what drew them to the skilled trades, what they like about the work, and their hopes for the future.
Tristan Wright – 25 Years Old
Wright worked out a deal to take the summer job after his first year of college, and discovered he had a real liking for the work. “I really enjoyed it,” Wright says, “and I changed my degree over to construction management. And then after my second year of college, I was just like, you know, I think I'd rather just stick with working.”
Just this past year, Wright was promoted to Journeyman. He’s already done work on some big jobs, including a hotel/convention center. “It's the 15 floors of hotel rooms and I've been jumping all around on this job, so I've gotten to taste a little bit of everything,” Wright says.
His other recent accomplishment was winning a Gold Medal in Pipefitting at ABC’s 2023 National Craft Championships. Qualifying was incredibly challenging. During his fourth year of trade school Wright took a written test and scored in the top of his class. The top four students with the highest score in the class went on to compete in the regional John Hogan Craft Championship Competition. The top two from that competition participated in the national competition.
“To prepare for the national competition, the silver medal winner for Pipefitting, Bryon Alford, our mentor, Levi Terry and I went to TDExchange (TDIndustries’ training facility and meeting space) every Monday to practice,” Wright says. “We used mockups to emulate the skills tests that would be present at the national competition. During the local competition, I was nervous. By the time we reached the national competition, I was prepared enough to feel relaxed.”
And all the hard work certainly paid off.
Wright hopes to take the next steps in his career at TDI, leading crews and eventually becoming a foreman. “Then just keep on and take is as far as I can,” Wright says.
He also hopes that more members of his generation consider the trades when searching for a career. “It's always preached college, college, college,” Wright says, “but I definitely think that people should consider doing trades, especially if you're on the fence about going… I think that the trades are great option for people. You get to do very fulfilling work, you get to learn skills, and you get to see physically see changes that you've made to our environment.”
Gregory Baladez – 28 Years Old
Baladez owes a lot of his career to his father’s influence. While the elder Baladez never brought his son to work, he would do some welding and fabrication at home, and was often visiting with co-workers.
“I was 18 years old and [my father] pushed me at the beginning to get into it, but I just really liked it. I enjoy it a lot,” Baladez says. “It’s really fun to see behind the scenes of everything going on in the world. How everything works, the different kind of machinery, how intricate some of the stuff can be, how big some of the stuff can be. Most of the things we work on, most people don’t ever see. It’s really exciting to be behind the scenes.”
Baladez explored other career options. He has a college degree in AutoCAD. But, at the end of the day, he decided he would rather be on the job site than in an office. He has recently completed a stint as a foreman and is currently a general foreman.
“I’d like to become a superintendent,” Baladez says. “I’d like to see what that’s all about. I’d like to try to run some big jobs. And I think it would be really interesting to oversee multiple projects at the same time.”
Like so many who enter the trades, Baladez gets a sense of satisfaction from seeing how the work he does helps to shape the world around him. Part of a recent job was working at a popular food manufacturer. “I was right there with a crew installing the equipment that feeds people all over the country,” Baladez says. Now, whenever he sees those products in a store or brings some home for his family, he feels a sense of pride and accomplishment.
That feeling, he thinks, is a good reason for anyone to pursue a career in the trades. “You get to work with your hands, you get to see behind the scenes,” Baladez says. “There’s nothing else much like it.”