By: Jon L. Kinning, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President
The national unemployment rate is at a shocking low of 4.4% due to growth in the manufacturing, construction, professional and technical services, health care and mining industries in 2017. This statistic indicates that the country’s economy is healthy with increased production, more jobs, steady consumer spending and less government involvement, making it hard for people to recognize the strain so many companies are currently facing due to the shortage of skilled trades employees.
Businesses in the manufacturing and construction industries have more open positions for plumbers, pipefitters, welders, electricians, technicians than qualified candidates to fill them. In fact, the skilled trades is currently the hardest segment of the workforce for employers to staff, and the gap is expected to widen. Following are three reasons leading to the gap between open positions and available employees:
- Commercial Construction Market on the Rise
The construction industry is expected to grow, or remain stable, in the next 12 months according to the USG Corporation + U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index. The latest index score of 73 is based on three main factors: backlog, new business and revenues – meaning, the outlook for the commercial construction industry is strong and the need for qualified trades workers remains high. Companies affected by the continued market growth are fighting to hire from the same limited pool of skilled trades employees.
- Aging Workforce
Manufacturing and construction work can be tough due to the physical demands of the job. Most skilled trades workers can’t sustain the stress to their body much past age 65, with most employees retiring between 55 and 64 years of age. Right now, 53% of skilled trades workers are over the age of 45 and for every one skilled trades employee who enters the workforce, five retire.
- Stigma Around Skilled Jobs
High schools, student counselors and parents are conditioned to believe that academic prep for college is the best way to go. There is a stigma that skilled jobs are low-paying and offer little advancement, but that does not hold true today. Although some parents would prefer their child to become a doctor rather than a plumber, the truth is that skilled jobs earn a good living and offer real career paths – often into white-collar management roles – and without college debt. However, this stigma results in few young people being interested in pursuing skilled professions. There are now defined pathways to bachelor degrees by starting out in an accredited apprenticeship program. Apprentices now have stackable credits that can be deployed if they choose.
Vocational schools offer students a fast-tracked career path, typically two- or four-year programs, into a high demand career without student loans. Apprenticeship programs, like the RK Apprenticeship Program, offer students training in plumbing, pipefitting, HVAC, sheetmetal, ironwork, electrical and structural fabrication while working as a full-time employee with benefits and opportunities for advancement – plus, apprentices can earn up to 45 credit hours towards an Associates in Applied Sciences (A.A.S.).
RK knows that you cannot build a business off of buying talent and believes that we must attract and train the next generation of skilled labor through work-based learning not only for our own success, but also for the future success of the manufacturing and construction industries. We continue to make significant investments in training and developing our talent pool through in-house training programs and by raising awareness. Check out our free whitepaper on the Swiss Apprenticeship model and see how RK is incorporating similar practices.