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Skilled Tradesmen Shortage? Skip College and Learn a Trade


There continues to be an overall skilled tradesmen shortage in America or skills gap. While getting your 4-year college degree seems to be “all the rage”, the latest findings from the Bureau of Labor & Statistics show that skilled trades such as welders and electricians once again top the latest list of the most difficult-to-fill job openings. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for all construction and extraction occupations was $47,430 in May 2019. That surpasses the median annual wage for all occupations ($39,810) by $7,620. That’s around a 20% increase.

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The Tradesmen Shortage and Skills Gap

The lack of skilled tradesmen has migrated from an emerging dilemma to an ongoing one. It seems largely the result of an educational system that continues to diminish the value and job satisfaction of working in the various trades. There is also a lack of communication of the benefits of working in trades and the often lucrative pay scales associated with being an electrician, carpenter, plumber, welder, etc.

Without serious influence and changes to how we view and run education, this ongoing “skills gap” can only get worse. This, in an industry already short on help. It isn’t uncommon to have lots of job openings go unfilled for lack of qualified or willing candidates, even at times of high unemployment.

In a recent report by AGC and Sage Construction and Real Estate, 75% of those surveyed expected to add workers in 2020. The problem? 81% found it difficult to fill open positions, and a majority anticipated even more difficulty in 2020.

skills gap tradesmen

Skilled Tradesmen Positions in High Demand

The list of high-demand tradesmen positions (and not getting filled) includes the #1 Skilled Trades as well as IT staff, mechanics, nurses, and machinists. The Skilled Trades category includes, among others, construction workers, bricklayers, and electricians.

Based on this and similar reports we’ve read over the years, American employers seem to have more difficulty filling positions than their global counterparts. This could be due to the American focus and glamorization of college degrees and white-collar jobs. It often leads young people to expect a lot more for a lot less.

Compensating for the Tradesman Shortage

Companies, lacking enough skilled tradesmen, turn to a variety of solutions when filling the skills gap. That need to deal with a two-pronged attack: losing workers to attrition and retirement, and dealing with new workers who have less experience.

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Many larger firms turn to infrastructure investments to compensate. This includes using technology in new ways to reduce dependency on skilled workers or a depleted labor force. You see technology such as 3D printers, BIM (building information modeling) systems, drones, robotics, and more.

The other side involves changing construction methods to reduce labor. That may include pre-building components or the use of more serialized or simplistic construction methods.

Our Own Experiences with Young People

I used to give a monthly lecture at the local private college. I quickly realized that students seemed far more concerned with how much money they’d make than what they’d be required to do. Students also seemed to carry around a certain level of entitlement regarding average starting salaries straight out of college.

When it comes to average salaries—it seems everyone believes they are above-average.

Of course, at the same time, we are seeing some young people “see the light”. Some have looked towards getting into the workforce and tackle on-the-job training. Many even found that employers are more than happy to arrange for paying for additional schooling if it helps them grow and thrice at their jobs. The automotive industry, in particular, seems very adept at this. We also see it with the plumbing and electrical trades.

So How Do We Solve the Skills Gap Problem?

So how do we solve the skills gap problem? Well, Pro Tool Reviews has several suggestions we should all consider:

  1. Encourage communication and education about the trades to young adults, particularly at the middle school levels. You can do this by volunteering to speak at local schools or at your local school board meetings as an advocate. This really needs to occur before 9th grade when kids begin locking in plans to attend college.
  2. Spread the news to your friends and family. You have one voice. Make more. The trades offer a lot of job satisfaction. With the current deficit of workers, being a tradesman can help young people quickly earn decent money for a job well done.
  3. Educate young people on the true cost of college. College is for some—not everyone. On the job training and trade schools, however, typically cost far less than a typical college degree. That even goes for state schools. By entering the trades, young people can begin earning money sooner. They also pay down less student debt. Put it together, and they can bring their earned income to a much higher level more quickly.
  4. Hire young people and prepare your own company to educate and grow job skills. You have to walk the walk if you want the industry to change. Prepare your company for the patience, training, and programs required to encourage young people in the skilled trades.

So what do YOU think? Do you see a shortage of skilled tradesmen? Let us know in our forums or by commenting on our Facebook page.

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Thomas Ramsey

Work on changing the misnamed right to work states. Support unions. In NY, commercial refrigeration and A/C is majority union. Go down to Fla.and anyone with a van can advertise as commercial. With so many workers, it keeps wages down.

Chris Silliman

I know more people that do their job and then get degrees and make more money than those who did it the opposite direction