The number of candidates entering the trades has been dropping in recent years.
Add to that a record number of baby boomers starting to hit the big red retirement button on their dashboard and you start to realize the shortage problem: More skilled workers are leaving than are coming in to replace them.
Recently 91% of more than 2700 contractors report having difficulty in hiring skilled workers and 79% reported steady or increased backlog (1).
When the recession hit back in 2009, a lot of tradesmen in Iowa were unable to find work and had to scramble to find new careers or leave the state to find work in their specialty. Once those employees were gone from Iowa, they’re gone…they are not coming back.
That has put even more pressure on contractors and service companies here
in the Midwest. I see a lot of effort being placed on high school graduates and getting them into vocational programs. That’s a good idea – but it’s in direct competition with colleges and degree programs which tend to be better supported by the parents.
Most high school graduates are going to view college as a lot more fun and glamorous than learning how to weld metal, troubleshoot a refrigeration system, or clean out a plugged drain.
What if our industry focused on various types of candidates?
Many of the students in my class (18 this semester) are not right out of high school. They are people that recently completed military duty, married a tradesmen and want to work beside them, truck drivers that want to be home on nights and weekends, young parents that want to better provide for their families, and some are already in the industry working with family and friends at jobs and are getting their career started.
Adding education now helps build a foundation to continue a path onto journeymen and master status. So maybe we should be looking at programs to get a variety of candidates involved in learning the trades.
The state of Iowa just launched a new program in the fall of 2019 titled “Future Ready Iowa, Last Dollar Scholarship”. This program bridges the gap between grants, private scholarships, and tuition costs for numerous degree programs in fields facing job shortages.
It’s too soon to verify the impact of this program, but I know that almost 90% of the students in my class benefit from this scholarship program. It could be a model for other states to replicate to grow their student base for learning a trade.
(1) USG Corporation + U.S. Chamber of commerce survey of contractors conducted Q2 2018
Follow along with our students’ progress here.
Learn more about the Generation T movement here.