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Skilled Trades Prove to be Recession-Resilient

July 5, 2023
Recession resiliency starts at the employee level with training and education.

The number of companies conducting major layoffs is rising. However, the skilled trades industry can’t get enough workers. Baby boomers are leaving the industry at alarming rates in what’s being called The Great Retirement, and there are simply not enough young people stepping in to fill their shoes.

The skilled trades are essential, making them more resistant to recession or economic downturn than other sectors. Think about it: there will always be a need for new construction, renovations, and other projects as humans modernize their physical environments. But recession-resiliency isn’t something that just happens to the trades: organizations still need to be proactive and engage in technology innovation to ensure resiliency. Being proactive about resiliency means training employees in current and future industry needs and evolving alongside technology.

Emerging Trends

Recession resiliency starts at the employee level with training and education. As the next generation explores alternative methods to gain skills, the skilled trades industry is ripe with opportunities for digital and hands-on learning. And, as industry codes and standards evolve, it’s important organizations continue to educate and upskill employees on the latest information they need to know to do their jobs.

Gamification through virtual training is an emerging digital learning design approach to creating workers that are built for a resilient industry. Immersive simulations in construction can be critical to gauging how workers respond in certain situations, which can then inform their fit to certain roles. For instance, organizations currently conduct virtual reality (VR) simulations in which workers walk on a high-altitude beam to gauge how well they respond to working at great heights. This information is critical to ensuring workers are placed in roles and environments suited to their strengths. If you place a worker with a fear of heights on a beam for most of their workweek, odds are they won’t stick in that role—or at that company—for very long. Immersive digital training can ensure happier employees, resulting in greater employee retention and overall productivity for the organization—and therefore stronger workforces in the face of economic downturn.

VR simulations can also be cheaper and safer alternatives to real-life simulations, which is critical when costs begin to soar. VR headset equipment can often be more cost-effective than the fuel and equipment needed to set up physical training scenarios for workers. In person training can also be more dangerous. In the above construction example, it’s much more dangerous to put an employee on a high-altitude beam—even with the proper gear—than it is to perform the same exercise in a simulated environment. By putting workers in a simulated environment in place of a physical one, organizations can create safer training modules that don’t put workers at risk.

As Apple is joining the virtual and augmented reality space with Apple Vision, its advanced spatial computing technology coming out in 2024, “Spatial Learning” will continue to gain momentum in improving skilled workers with immersive simulations. Just the eye tracking capabilities alone will provide much better feedback to the individual learner and his or her trainer on how the learner responds to simulated incidents. Additional wearables with biometric monitoring and gamification experiences, learners will be engaged to perform better with each simulation.

Keeping Up with Technology

As the industry continues to modernize through the increased use of technology, its ability to complete projects increases exponentially as it streamlines communication and workflows via future-proofed digitization. In fact, according to a recent study from the NFPA, 25% of workers believe technology will improve accuracy and safety, resolve code and inspection disputes more quickly (13%), and increase customers’ confidence in their organization’s ability (10%), leading to more work in the future.

While a recessionary environment may slow down new construction as owners tighten their purse strings, there will always be a need for inspection, testing and maintenance (ITM) on existing buildings that require skilled trade experts. And with this continued ITM comes the opportunity to implement technology to make processes more efficient and safer. Modern fire protection systems employ IoT technology to constantly provide data of their performance. Therefore, fire protection system technicians will need to add big data analysis to their skill set. They will need to learn how these digital technologies produce data and interpret the data into actionable insights.

To remain resilient, organizations need to be nimbler and more evergreen when it comes to technology disruptions. Machine and human partnership to perform a trades job is no longer science fiction. Contractors must continue to embrace digital transformation and ensure that new talent is ready to work side by side with robots, big data, and AI to get the job done. Part of embracing new technology is educating workers—partially via digital training methods noted above and partially learning to work with new technology.

The Relentless Pursuit of Curiosity

The skilled trades industry has faced its share of difficulties as the economy fluctuates and the labor market goes with it. The perseverance of the industry amidst external factors is due not only to the need for continued building upkeep, but to the curiosity of the leaders and learners within the industry. Skilled trades professionals are known for being curious, and their knack for figuring out how things come apart and go together lends itself to more than just being excellent at their craft. This relentless pursuit enables them to function in the now while keeping an eye on advancements that are coming down the pipeline.

Contractors and organized labor organizations need to go beyond structured, training time. In addition to training retreats or similar programs, skilled workers need to be able to learn on the go and in the moment. Training approaches, such as on-demand micro-learning, remote video coaching, online trade communities for crowdsourcing, and subscriptions to trade publications all help skilled workers stay abreast of latest technology disruptions and emerging trends, best practices, and issues. With gamification, workers may earn digital badges when they have demonstrated that they learned a new skill. This will be helpful for job assignments in the modern gig economy.

Through proper digital training and technology implementation, professionals can hone their skills and put the industry in a better position during recessionary environments.

Bartholomew Jae has 25 years of experience helping companies develop their leaders, talent, and organization. Bartholomew spent half his career as a Learning & Development Leader, and the remainder providing strategy and management consulting to Fortune 500 companies and government agencies around the world. In his current role with NFPA, Bartholomew heads up the Education and Development line of business. He is responsible for leading a transformation to deliver more contemporary learning experiences and growing NFPA’s impact in teaching the world to be safer.

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