Drawing Younger Workers to the Skilled Trades

If your company needs workers for skilled trades jobs, then you’re already well aware of the critical shortage of qualified candidates. You know the main causes of the shortage are mass retirements among Baby Boomers and low interest in skilled trades work among Millennials and Generation Z. And you know that older workers have larger percentages of people trained in the skilled trades, while younger generations have fewer skilled trades workers in their ranks.

But why aren’t young people drawn to the skilled trades? And how can you find talented and dedicated young workers to fill these critical roles? Read on to learn how your company can build a robust pipeline of young workers for skilled trades positions.

Why Aren’t Younger Workers Interested in the Skilled Trades?

Skilled trades jobs are roles that require some targeted education during high school, after high school, or on the job. Though people with a four-year college degree can work in the skilled trades, it isn’t a prerequisite as it is for most professional positions. This contributed to an entrenched image problem for the skilled trades. Though many baby boomers worked in well paying skilled trades positions, many felt college degrees would provide better earning potential and career fulfillment for their kids. They then passed this stigma down to their children and fewer young people even entertained ideas of pursuing technical or blue collar work.

Common Misconceptions About the Skilled Trades

Beyond the deeply held belief that the path to good career starts with college, there are many other pervasive myths about the skilled trades that prevent young people from exploring it as an option, including:

  • Lack of advancement opportunities. Results from a 2014 study in British Columbia, Canada, by the Independent Contractors and Businesses Associations, showed that less than half of the student respondents thought they could add skills and advance their careers in the skilled trades.
  • Physically demanding. When people think of skilled trades jobs, they think of blue collar roles that include heavy lifting and difficult physical labor, such as construction and warehouse jobs. While this can be the case, many skilled trades careers require fine motor skills and a deep understanding of technology and engineering, rather than feats of physical strength. For example, the job of an airplane mechanic is physical but it is not particularly wearing on the body.
  • Not for women. The skilled trades aren’t typical career paths for women, but that is beginning to change. Increasingly, apprenticeship and career and technical education programs are including women in their outreach. And there’s an abundance of skilled trade jobs available that women could easily fill.
  • Low paying. On the contrary, most skilled trade jobs have high earning potential and pay well above minimum wage. And because the jobs don’t require a college degree, skilled trades workers have the opportunity to save more of their earnings rather than spend years paying off student loans.
  • Unrewarding. There is an assumption that skilled labor jobs are repetitive, dirty, and boring. But in reality, skilled trades jobs are rarely all of those things, and there is often a flip side that is positive. For example, many internet infrastructure workers get mucky working outside installing hardware. But they also get to work outside at different locations in beautiful weather rather than sitting at a desk under fluorescent lights in an office all year round.

Tips to Attract Young Workers to the Skilled Trades

Experts predict the shortage of skilled trades workers is on track to get worse, so businesses must find ways to attract Millennial and Gen Z workers who never considered these careers as an option. Counteracting the skilled trades image problem requires an innovative, multi-pronged approach. Here are key strategies that can help:

Spearhead Skilled Trades Training Programs

One- and two-year technical programs and certifications still provide an abundance of talented skilled trades graduates and remain important resources. But beyond advertising jobs to talent exiting these institutions, it’s important to establish your own programs and educational partnerships. Consider establishing an in-house apprenticeship program or partner with nearby high schools and colleges with Career and Technical Education (CTE) offerings. Better yet, offer both training tracks, because one can be a better fit than others depending upon the life circumstances of students.

Apprenticeships and Career and Technical Education programs are in the midst of a renaissance, spurred by the critical skilled trades shortage. Chances are good there are local programs—offered through schools or government employment initiatives—where your company can offer expertise and support. If there aren’t existing programs, you can help create one from the ground up.

Make Sure Your Message Reaches Young Workers

Traditional job boards and outreach methods remain important, but you’ll see more success drawing young workers when you reach out where they are—online and in real life. Participate in as many career fairs with high schools, vocational schools, technical certification schools, and colleges. For smaller organizations, your budget will probably allow you to attend fairs at local schools. If you’re a larger company, consider casting your net wider across your state or even nationally to increase your pool of candidates.

Additionally, you must amplify your company through social networks. This means sharing your employer brand and culture on professional websites, such as LinkedIn, and on social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even Snapchat. You should also share job opportunities and apprenticeship openings over these channels. Utilize social geotargeting whenever possible—this sends notifications only to candidates within a reasonable commuting distance of the job site.

Include Young Women in Your Outreach

You are missing out on a major source of talent if you ignore women. Slowly, apprenticeships and career and technical education are seeking more participation from women, and women-focused training programs are cropping up. For example, the non-profit organization Women Who Weld was founded in 2014 to teach welding to unemployed and underemployed women in the Detroit region.

To draw more women candidates, your employer brand must demonstrate that your company has an inclusive workplace. Women need to know that if they work for you they won’t be subject to harassment, and will have the same opportunities for advancement and training as their male coworkers. It’s also important that key leaders—within HR, and apprenticeship and CTE programs—know your recruitment strategy includes actively seeking women for skilled trade roles and training programs. This way your company is more likely to reach out to women’s career development non-profits, or include women on marketing materials at job fairs—strategies that improve results.

Amplify the Value of Skilled Trade Careers

The stigma against skilled trades career paths is deeply entrenched and will take time to reverse. The resurgence of apprenticeships and CTE programs should help a great deal, however, getting the message out about the value of skilled trades jobs is important beyond these programs. Here are some other ideas for spreading the word:

  • Take every opportunity to participate in information sessions about the earning potential and career growth opportunities of skilled trade jobs.
  • Prominently share information about the career trajectories possible in skilled trade jobs on your company careers page.
  • Encourage valued employees to share this information with the young people they know.

Now that the wave of baby boomers retiring is cresting, companies must get creative to draw younger workers to the skilled trades. Establishing programs takes planning and effort, but laying the groundwork will result in a valuable talent pipeline of skilled trades workers.

Contact LINK for help recruiting talent for your skilled trades roles.