For the seventh consecutive year, skilled trades positions remain the hardest to fill in the United States according to the latest Talent Shortage Survey by ManpowerGroup. Nearly half (46%) of U.S. employers report difficulties filling jobs due to lack of available talent, a significant increase from 32% reported in 2015.
According to the National Electrical Contractors Association, 7,000 electricians join the field each year, but 10,000 retire. As job openings continue to increase without new laborers to fill them, the situation could impact every element of skilled trades, from new construction to home repair.
Here are five key market trends every skilled trades recruiter should know about—and how you can use this knowledge to recruit better.
1. Vocational education programs are disappearing from high schools.
The decimation of these programs means that students are brought up in the education system to track for a college education without exposure to trade careers. Remember when you were in high school and they offered shop class? Public schools don’t do this any longer.
2. Baby Boomers are retiring in droves.
An unsettling 32% of billion-dollar manufacturers estimate losses over $100 million as Baby Boomers retire without enough skilled workers to replace them. As retirement approaches, though, not all Baby Boomers will have idle relaxation in their plans.
The Economic Policy Institute reports that the average baby boomer household (aged 56 to 61) has $163,577 saved for retirement and 41% of households aged 55 to 64 have NO retirement savings at all! [Note: This report does not take investment into account.]
These numbers paint the picture of a generation that isn’t financially ready to jump into retirement full force. Many will continue working. Some will want to, some will need to.
3. Younger generations are pursuing work in other industries.
The global staffing firm Adecco predicts a grim future in which 31 million skilled trade positions are left vacant by year 2020. Already 62% of firms report struggling to fill important skilled trade positions, particularly in the construction and electrical industries. The elimination of shop class in high schools played a big role in students’ lack of familiarity with blue collar job options.
4. Professional job growth receives more support than skilled trades
According to 2016 research from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, 99% of the job growth since the economic Recession of 2008 has gone to workers with a college education. Workers with a high school diploma or less saw virtually no recovery. For the first time, workers with a Bachelor’s degree or higher (36%) outnumbered those with a high school diploma or less (34%).
5. College-educated workers are saddled with increasing student loan debt
College comes with a steep bill. A recent report from the data analytics company ValuePenguin estimates that the average outstanding balance of student loan borrowers is $26,700. Recent data collected by The College Board shows that tuition for a 4-year public college has increased over 40% in the last 10 years.
What You Can Do Right Now
High school graduates might rethink college when they better understand the long-term impact of their student loans. A free ride at a trade school? No student loan debt? The average plumber makes about $51,610 per year, quite a respectable salary, especially when you’re not paying for college until you’re 40. The average salary for electricians is $52,270 annually, and building contractors average $55,730 (Source: BLS).
In order to successfully engage and recruit these candidates, to borrow the words of Mike Rowe, the former host of “Dirty Jobs” and CEO of the mikeroweWORKS Foundation:
"You have to make [skilled trades work] aspirational. You have to change the image of the opportunity."
Through its scholarship programs, including the Work Ethic Scholarship Program, the mikeroweWORKS Foundation provides financial assistance to qualified individuals with a desire to learn a skill that is in demand. The Foundation has been instrumental in granting more than $3 million in education for trade schools across the country.
Additionally, industry experts say they’re heartened by the $190 million Apprenticeship USA program created under the last administration. With a network of over 150,000 employers in more than 1,000 occupations, this Department of Labor initiative supports job seekers via programs in nearly every state in the U.S. that lets them learn and earn at the same time.
If you’re working with a skilled trades employer in need of more employees than you could possibly fill, consider recommending they sign up to become an Apprenticeship USA leader.
These aren’t problems that can be solved overnight, but you can start now and build on programs like the ones mentioned here to change the perception of skilled trades occupations.