There are a number of careers spanning multitudes of markets in which the current workforce is aging out and retiring, and there are not enough young, equipped workers to take their place. If more young people do not begin to pursue skilled trades, we are going to see a significant worker shortage in coming years.
For any type of worker skilled in welding, the U.S. is experiencing a shortage of hundreds of thousands. A national survey conducted in 2017 found that 70% of contractors are having a hard time finding qualified craft workers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that by 2024 there will be over 85,000 unfilled electrician positions. The trade skill shortage statistics go on and on. These shortages mean an increase in the cost to hire skilled workers, as well as an increase in wages for anyone qualified for such positions.
Both our society as a whole and even those within the skilled trades have been discouraging young people from pursuing this type of work for many years. Parents in the U.S. have long been pushing college for their children, even from a young age before their talents and interests are even realized. It seems that for many parents, obtaining a four-year degree brings with it a certain financial and societal safety net. It’s hard to convince parents that the skilled trades will provide a respectable, comfortable life for their children.
A large societal push for high schoolers to go straight to college has perhaps deepened an already-existing stigma about trade skill—“blue collar” work—being inferior to other careers. Similar messages have been passed down from older generations of skills tradespeople. Skilled workers have told our children things like, “Don’t do the type of work I do. It’s hard and physically demanding. Go to college and pursue greater opportunities.” This generation listened, went to college, and they have not carried on another generation of skilled trades. This is certainly another major contributor to the shortages our country is now facing.
The reality is that there are myriad opportunities within the large umbrella of trade skills that are worth consideration. Along with the stigma just mentioned, it's likely that many people see a lack of upward mobility for anyone working in a skilled trade. This is not the case. There are many specialty areas, opportunities to teach, competitive salaries, and more.
A wide array of opportunities, job security, good wages, as well as minimal entry-level education requirements with little-to-no debt accrued in the process are real benefits of trade work, but this is not the full picture for anyone interested. Much of this is “dirty” work—you go to work clean and come home dirty. There is definitely some education and training required (though there are apprenticeships available in which you get paid to be trained!). The work is physically demanding and the hours can be long. A trade worker must put in their time, hours of experience and hours of training, in order to advance to more specialized positions and earn higher wages. All of these are part of the real world of trade skills, but it is also a world of opportunity.
Whether a child's interest is in nature, math, music, science or something totally unrelated, giving them the space to discover and pursue interests is vital to their development. And if over time it seems that a child's giftings are technical in nature, supporting their pursuits can be just as vital. There are high schools with robust career tech programs in which a student can graduate and already have a skilled trades certification, apprenticeships with private employers who pay for skilled training, and technical colleges that offer dozens of speciality trainings programs. Making contact with faculty in one of these programs and even visiting a facility can be impactful as you and your child seek to pursue whatever interest they may have. Even for parents that do not have familiarity with trade skills, and may still not be convinced that a skilled trade would be an acceptable option for their child's future career, it is important for parents to keep an open mind and allow their children to explore.
[To hear more about skilled trades, make sure to listen to “The Growing Demand for Trade Workers” on the “Navigating Your Child’s Education” podcast.]