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Why Don’t the Kids Want to Work?

June 5, 2024
What's with the bad attitude and the poor work ethic? In a word: hopelessness.

This month I attended two very special meetings I always feel privileged to take part in.

The first was the Eighth Emerging Water Technologies Symposium, which brings together some of the finest minds in the industry to share problems, solutions and discoveries that are on the cutting edge of science and policy.

The second event, co-located with the EWTS, is the Plumbing Industry Leadership Coalition. Since so many representatives of the top water organizations attend the Symposium, why waste the opportunity to get them all in a room to discuss the industry's top concerns? 

Attending organizations for the PILC included Plumbing Manufacturers International, the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials, the Radiant Professionals Alliance, the American Society of Sanitary Engineering, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors-National Association, the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association, the American Society of Plumbing Engineers, and the Water Quality Association, with special presentations from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. 

My coverage of the EWTS and the PILC are going to have to wait for next month’s issue. But just here I want to talk about a sentiment I encountered several times during both meetings—and at networking sessions, and around the hotel bar—a sentiment that I’ve heard from readers and from many columnists over the years: why don’t the kids these days want to work?

In attempting to address the skilled workforce crisis there have been local, state and federal programs. There have been private programs, union programs, association programs. And they all seem to hit the same stumbling block: young people who are apathetic; who don’t want to show up on time; who don’t want to learn; who quit at the drop of a hat. The way I’ve heard it phrased is, “we can teach everything but attitude—but without the right attitude we can’t teach anything.”

So where is this bad attitude coming from?

First, I would like to point out that that attitude is not universal. Our Under 30 All Stars feature highlights some young people (one only 18!) who are making careers and excelling in the plumbing trade.

But, for many young people, there is a strong perception—and remember, this is a perception, although based in reality—that they are inheriting a series of dysfunctional systems from the generations that came before. Climate change is a big one, but so are the skyrocketing costs of healthcare, education and housing.

So then, the odds already set against them, they enter the workforce. And there they see a system does not seem set up to benefit them, or to benefit their communities, but seems instead set up to benefit only a tiny segment of the ownership class. It looks like a hopeless situation—and if it’s hopeless, why bother?

If you’re over fifty and talking to potential hires is part of your job you’ve probably sat across from a young person and felt the resentment coming off them and wondered, “what is this kid’s problem?” The problem is they see zero chance of ever owning a home, starting a family, or having something that resembles a meaningful life—and they probably blame you.  

Like I said, this is a perception, and perceptions can be changed. But it isn’t enough to say, “this isn’t that kind of job,” or “I’m not that kind of boss.” They need to be shown a better life is possible.

So talk to them about your own journey in the trades. Talk about the hours you’ve put in, but also about what you’ve been able to get back—the nice car, the boat, the lakehouse—and about what you’ve been able to give back—the little league team you sponsor, the company food drive, the charity installation work.  

The kids these days do want to work—but they need something to hope for.

About the Author

Steve Spaulding | Editor-inChief - CONTRACTOR

Steve Spaulding is Editor-in-Chief for CONTRACTOR Magazine. He has been with the magazine since 1996, and has contributed to Radiant Living, NATE Magazine, and other Endeavor Media properties.

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