Skilled Trades Recruitment Trends

With the labor market near full employment, employers trying to expand their workforce face a daunting challenge. Companies looking to fill skilled-labor jobs face an even greater challenge because skilled tradespeople are in particularly short supply. Currently, many of these jobs are filled by aging baby boomers who are retiring in droves, with few replacements in the pipeline. At the same time, skilled labor is in increasingly high demand as the economy expands, with added pressure from a number of sectors including construction, infrastructure repair, and healthcare.

The critical gap between supply and demand for skilled labor is hampering companies’ ability to grow, which has a direct effect on the bottom line. The solution requires some combination of increased vocational training along with higher rates of pay.

Given the ever-changing job market and the rise of automation, it’s important to understand what constitutes skilled trades in today’s world, why they’re in demand, and what can be done to increase the skilled trades labor pool.

What are Skilled Trades?

Skilled trades are occupations that require specific training and/or certification (such as carpenter, welder, phlebotomist, or solar panel technician), but not necessarily a college degree. Synonymous with the term skilled labor, these occupations often involve manual labor and are commonly associated with construction or manufacturing, but not exclusively. For example, many of today’s fastest-growing occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) include other skilled trades, such as home health aide, applications software developer, and information security analyst, to name a few.

Why Is There A Skilled Labor Shortage?

The building and construction industry, which traditionally employs a critical mass of skilled tradespeople, lost thousands of workers during the Great Recession when the jobs disappeared along with the demand for new housing. Of course, the industry, mirroring the national economy, eventually recovered. But, the industry workforce didn’t, disappearing, in large part, into retirement as mentioned above, leaving employers with critical labor shortages.

Similar to construction, the manufacturing sector is struggling with a shortage of skilled workers to operate highly-technical, automated equipment. The healthcare field is also struggling with a serious  shortage of skilled trades workers as the estimated 75 million aging baby boomers begin to require age-related medical care in a wide variety of specialties. In fact, healthcare is expected to remain one of the fastest-growing occupations for the foreseeable future, according to the BLS. Continuing labor shortages in this industry may have grave health and safety ramifications.

How did we get here? Baby boomers aging out of the workforce is one answer, but the problem goes beyond that: younger generations don’t seem to have the interest or wherewithal to pursue skilled trades careers. This is in spite of the fact that many of the jobs pay reasonably well.

A second answer is that, over the course of the last 50 years or so, it has become commonplace for most high schoolers in the U.S. to attend college immediately after high school. A college education has come to represent the gateway to the American middle class. At the same time, with the focus on college preparation, the many vocational programs that used to provide skilled trades training ceased to exist due to lack of demand. Somehow, these programs developed a stigma that they were for students who couldn’t hack the college track.

Solving the Skilled Trades Shortage

Since before the Great Recession, it has become clear that a college degree, alone, doesn’t ensure a comfortable, middle-class existence in the U.S., especially factoring in the record debt loads amassed by many graduates. There needs to be a sea change in thinking, among high school students, teachers, guidance counselors, and parents that there are alternatives to pursuing a college degree after high school.

In this day and age of increasing automation, vocational training programs are more important than ever; fortunately, there is a growing universe of online programs that serve this purpose.

But, for employers looking to grow their skilled labor workforce, new approaches and strategies are required:

  • Companies must focus on training and development of new labor pools. They need to redesign career paths to accommodate training, apprenticeships, and mentoring to close the skills gap.
  • Companies must develop partnerships with vocational schools and programs to develop a pipeline of potential workers.
  • Companies should offer tuition reimbursement and flex time to enable workers to learn new skills.
  • Companies will have to reevaluate pay scales to compete with white collar jobs.

As with any recruiting effort, hiring managers should be thinking about the best ways to reach potential candidates such as using social media, networking, multi-day job fairs, and leveraging their company’s brand. Also, of course, companies should broadly publicize their training programs. It will take time to rebuild the candidate pipeline which is why employers need to start thinking about it as soon as possible.

Contact LINK today for assistance in finding skilled trades candidates.