Solutions to the Skilled Labor Gap

Oct. 12, 2018
To close the skills gap, partnerships should be developed between the construction and service industry and nonprofit or staffing partners.

By Sylvester Criscone

In its 2016-2017 U.S. talent shortage survey, the staffing firm Manpower Group found that skilled trade jobs are the hardest jobs to fill in the U.S. – highlighting a large and growing labor shortage that the industry will only solve by working together.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, the problem started during the economic and housing downturn in 2007, when the construction industry alone lost 1.5 million workers. Half of those skilled workers never came back. Further exacerbating the problem today are stricter immigration laws and retiring Baby Boomers who are permanently leaving the workforce.

NAHB’s 2014 survey of contractors shows that skilled subcontractor labor shortages are more widespread than previously measured -- electricians, carpenters, plumbers, bricklayers and HVAC technicians are in more demand than ever.

The median annual wage for plumbers was $57,070 and the top 10 percent in the industry earned $91,810.

Go Build America says that the average age of a skilled worker is over 50, and for every skilled worker entering the workforce, five are leaving.

The problem is further compounded by a perceived stigma against a career in the trades. Young people are often told a professional career path is the only option for a stable future – despite many students coming out of four-year programs with significant debt. The average student in the class of 2017 has nearly $40,000 in student loan debt. We simply aren’t encouraging young people to pursue the skilled trades, despite the fact that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the industry to continue growing, and many workers in the skilled trades earn average or above-average wages.

For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017:

·       Electricians earned a median annual wage of $57,910. The highest 10 percent of electricians earned $92,690;

·       The median annual wage for carpenters was $49,630, while the top 10 percent in the industry earned $80,350;

·       The median annual wage for plumbers was $57,070 and the top 10 percent in the industry earned $91,810;

·       HVAC repair people earned a median annual wage of $49,530, while the top 10 percent earned $75,330.

The opportunity for a successful career exists not only for skilled workers, but for those who also aspire to run their own businesses in the industry. Many of the business owners in our contractor network got their start as a tradesperson and then developed very successful small businesses, including women and minority owned enterprises.

To close the skills gap, partnerships should be developed between the construction and service industry and nonprofit or staffing partners to raise awareness, change attitudes and provide training that can lead to successful careers in trades. Below are some examples of programs that are finding solutions through creative partnerships.

Raise Awareness

·       mikeroweWORKS Foundation. You probably know Mike Rowe, as the “Dirtiest Man on TV.” Mike is the creator, executive producer and host of TV’s Dirty Jobs. The 10-year-old mikeroweWORKS Foundation launched on Labor Day of 2008. Since then, the Foundation and sponsors such as Wolverine Boots, has awarded more than $3 million in Work Ethic Scholarships to help young people pay for training to become plumbers, carpenters, electricians, welders, etc. Furthermore, their efforts promote the idea that if you have a strong work ethic, you will be happy at the end of the day, no matter what job you do.

·       Go Build focuses on changing the perception about careers in the skilled trades by talking to students, parents and teachers. It was started by several contractors’ associations and regularly partners with other skilled trades groups to show young people the benefits of jobs in every field in the industry through online content and extensive data analytics.

Change Attitudes

·       This Old House’s Generation Next has created a visual association between young people from diverse backgrounds to the skilled trades. Last year, three young apprentices were chosen from a nationwide casting call to work alongside the This Old House PBS-TV crew to shed light on the opportunities that careers in skilled trades can provide. The stories of their 10-week summer apprenticeship were featured on the show, which is paid for through industry sponsors.

Provide Training and Pathways to Careers

·       HomeServeUSA’s veterans hiring initiative. At its annual contractors’ conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee, recently, HomeServe USA announced an initiative to promote skilled trade jobs and apprenticeships to veterans. This program will directly connect HomeServe’s network of contractors in various skilled trades from around the country with existing staffing organizations such as the military network and their website to find qualified veterans without a fee. HomeServe is also starting a major initiative to target active duty service men and women who will soon be leaving the service with a transition to trade marketing effort featuring a dedicated Facebook site and targeted digital communications that will give them information about how to find good trade jobs.  Additionally, through HomeServe’s partnership with This Old House, the company is becoming a sponsor of the TOH Apprenticeship program which will create additional opportunities. 

·       Home Builders Institute is one of the most well-established and wide-ranging programs, having been in existence for more than 50 years. The nonprofit arm of the National Association of Home Builders, Home Builders Institute operates more than 100 training programs across the country, often in conjunction with a local builders’ association, and has an 80 percent job placement rate for graduates. HBI partners with Ohio State University and the U.S. Department of Labor to offer trade school and academic programs for ex-offenders, veterans, and at-risk youth, partnering them with mentors in the business. It even provides English-language instruction for Spanish-speaking immigrants, and provides scholarships with the help of corporations such as Lowes and organizations such as the Bob Woodward Foundation.

Sylvester Criscone is Vice President of Contractor Management and Administration of HomeServeUSA.

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