THE SKILLED TRADES (think electricians, heating and cooling technicians, plumbers, industrial mechanics) is in the midst of a big dilemma: Despite high demand, good wages, and low education cost, the industry is facing record lows in enrollment in education programs and workforce participation. According to statistics from The Department of Labor, by the year 2022 the plumbing workforce will need to increase by 21% and the HVAC (heating and air-conditioning) workforce will need to increase by 22% to keep up with demand. These statistics don’t include the replacement of those who will be retiring. In some parts of the U.S. as many as 60% of all skilled trades workers are over the age of 45 and currently for every four people retiring there is only one person entering the skilled trades. To learn a bit more about the current dilemma I didn’t have to look far for a great source. My dad, Rob Fetz, is the owner and president of Fetz Plumbing, Heating and Air-conditioning and has been for the better part of the last 25 years. He’s also the former President of Plumbing Heating and Cooling Contractors (PHCC) of Ohio, and is currently a member of their former president’s advisory Committee as well as their Public Relations Committee.
DF: What do you think are the main reasons for the skilled trades staffing shortage?
RF: Many high school-aged kids often aren’t aware that the skilled trades industry is an option. High schools have eliminated shop classes and students don’t have the opportunity to be introduced to the skilled trades industry. Guidance Counselors often brush skilled trades options aside and instead almost always promote 4-year colleges.
DF: What do you think employers can do to enhance and modernize the image of skilled trades to attract new employees, particularly those from the millennial generation?
RF: Many employers need to increase wages across the board and invest more in recruiting efforts.
DF: Are there opportunities for apprenticeships and education reimbursement programs?
RF: Some larger employers do offer tuition reimbursement after courses are successfully completed. Apprenticeships for people receiving their training are very common and are always paid so people have a lot of opportunity to get paid while they are earning their certificates.
DF: The skilled trades industry is often depicted as an industry that is white-male dominated. Is there a place in the skilled trades for women, people of color, and people of the LGBTQ community?
RF: Yes. We are seeing more people of color and women entering the field. I think there is especially more growth for more diversity in the field in cities where populations themselves are diverse.
The skilled trades industry is currently gathering steam in creating initiatives to attract and recruit new workers, however, there is some work that needs to be done in advancing work culture and giving the industry a modern face-lift. Employers in the skilled trades not only need to enhance recruiting efforts, they need to show that there is room for a modern, diverse workforce. As many industries and employers are beginning to do, the skilled trades industry needs to show the willingness to be more all-inclusive and more willing to accommodate millennial workers. This means “giving the people what they want” and includes providing employees with opportunities to grow and develop professionally in different ways and further adding social responsibility and community development initiatives. If the skilled trades industry as a whole can begin matching recruiting practices of other industries and rebrand themselves to show that they are ready for a diverse millennial workforce then they will not only solve their own staffing dilemma, they will provide the overall workforce with a tremendous opportunity for sustainable growth.
Skilled trades jobs provide the opportunity for many workers to work autonomously at a variety of worksites, and they provide the opportunity to create, build, and repair physical structures. Skilled trades workers have the ability to use their skills to collaborate with others and find great satisfaction in being a part of creating beautiful buildings, businesses, and homes for others. Skilled trades workers literally get the electric going and the water flowing for our homes and businesses. Let’s recognize the industry’s importance and invest our efforts in ensuring the future of the skilled trades workforce is a bright one.