The Truth About the Trades: Addressing the Skilled Worker Shortage

Currently, the U.S. labor force participation rate is 62.8%. This is a measurement of how many people are currently working or actively seeking work relative to the total working-age (16-64) population. That means 37.2% of eligible people aren’t working. To put things into perspective, 1.4 million workers are missing from the labor force compared to Feb. 2020. 

Some reasons for the labor shortage, onset by Covid-19, include:

  • Early retirements
  • Less immigration
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Stimulus payments
  • Padded savings accounts

As businesses bounce back from the pandemic, more jobs are available than workers. Even if every unemployed person in the country found a job, there would still be 2.5 million open jobs on the market. This labor shortage has been felt across the country, with some states and industries like manufacturing being more affected than others. 

Now, what about the skilled trades shortage specifically?

While the national labor shortage is more recent, the skilled worker shortage is not; it’s just been exacerbated since the pandemic rocked the world. Finding skilled trade workers has been a challenge partly because culture shifted its perspective.

Let’s take a closer look at several societal misconceptions about the trades and how can we improve the lack of skilled workers by shining some light on the situation.

4 Misconceptions That Make Finding Skilled Trade Workers Challenging

One of the biggest contributing factors to the shortage of skilled workers is that younger generations are writing off the trades as a career option. Societal misconceptions surrounding the skilled trades have influenced young people’s career choices, and the country is paying for it. 

If people knew the truth about the trades, which we’ll discuss in this section, employers may be able to start finding skilled workers. 

1. “Skilled trade jobs are dirty”

While we love and respect Mike Rowe, not all trades are “dirty jobs.” The trades are much more than manual labor and dusty construction sites.

Many skilled trades are at the forefront of innovation. Manufacturing, for example, is experiencing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is revolutionizing the way we produce and handle goods. Tradesmen in this industry interact with the latest advancements in technology, such as AI, robotics, augmented reality, and automation.

Tech-driven environments are becoming more and more common in the trades, but young people are under the impression that tradesmen don’t work with cutting-edge technology. To attract Gen Z, trade employers must highlight the opportunities available for young people to work with tech.

2. “Skilled trade jobs aren’t future-proof”

With technology advancing in the trades, some fear that skilled workers will be replaced. While some tasks may be automated, many trade jobs require critical thinking, problem-solving, and a human touch that machines can't replicate.

Cobots are a good example of how technology is being used to support workers, not replace them. Cobots are “collaborative robots” built to work alongside human workers. These robots are installed to perform repetitive, menial tasks, freeing up human workers to complete more complex tasks.

Additionally, many trades provide essential services, giving workers greater job security. This was evident during the pandemic when many trade jobs were considered “critical,” so tradesmen continued working. The skilled worker shortage has only worsened since then, further increasing the demand for tradesmen—and their wages.

3. “Skilled trade jobs aren’t lucrative”

With the rise in college tuition, pursuing a four-year degree may set young people back financially instead of setting them up for success. 

The average student borrows over $30,000 to pursue a bachelor’s degree, while trade schools cost a fraction of that. While the average salary of a college graduate ($74,464) is higher than a tradesman’s ($62,047), tradesmen have little to no debt and can enter the workforce twice as fast to begin earning money and seniority.

Alternatively, young adults can choose to enter the workforce immediately by pursuing a trade career that makes good money with just a high school diploma. Depending on their industry, experience level, and education, tradesmen can command six-figure salaries that are comparable to, if not greater than, white-collar salaries. All that to say, skilled trade jobs can be lucrative.

4. “Skilled trade jobs are just for men”

Traditionally, the trades have been male-dominated. Today, the opportunities for women in the trades are growing.

Organizations and initiatives are sprouting up globally to train, support, and encourage women in trades. Women in Manufacturing, for example, provides year-round support and resources to women who have chosen a career in the manufacturing industry. Not only that, but they work to inspire women of all ages, even middle school girls, with the idea that a trade career in manufacturing could be their future.

It's also essential to recognize the advantages of having a diverse workforce. Women bring a fresh perspective, creative solutions, and a different set of skills that complement their male counterparts. As more and more women enter the trades, the outdated notion that these jobs are "just for men" is becoming a thing of the past.

How to Solve the Skilled Labor Shortage

How to solve the skilled labor shortage is a loaded question, and there isn’t one answer. This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are several trade labor shortage solutions to consider.

  • Educate young people. One skilled labor shortage solution that could be incredibly impactful is educating younger generations on the trades. This involves collaborating with schools and colleges to offer workshops, vocational programs, apprenticeships, and job shadowing opportunities.
  • Engage in policy advocacy. Get involved with your local policymakers to ensure they understand the importance of skilled trades. Advocate for policies that support the growth and development of the trades, such as tax breaks for businesses that invest in training or subsidies for students entering trade schools.
  • Leverage technology. Don’t be afraid to adopt technology and automation to fill some gaps. While these innovations won't replace the need for skilled labor entirely, they can help alleviate some of the pressure if you’re understaffed. 
  • Upskill/reskill your workers. As you implement new technologies, invest in upskilling/reskilling your workers. Upskilling builds upon a worker’s existing skillsets, enabling them to excel in their current role. Reskilling equips workers with entirely new skills that prepare them for a different role.
  • Recruit nationally. Travel trade jobs are on the rise because the demand for skilled labor often isn’t locally available. Partner with a skilled trade travel staffing agency like Skillwork to recruit tradesmen from across the country who have the skills you need to stay competitive.

Staff Shortage Solutions for Employers In the Trades

How are companies overcoming labor shortages in the trades? By working with trades-specific staffing agencies like Skillwork.

We specialize in connecting tradesmen with employers who need their skill sets across the United States. As a skilled trades recruitment agency, we understand the challenges of finding skilled workers and help employers overcome them.

Using a proprietary 8-step vetting process, we recruit the country’s finest tradesmen:

  1. Publish Job Opening
  2. Sift Through Resumes
  3. Pre-screen Candidates Via an Experienced Recruiter
  4. Test Candidates’ Personality & Aptitude
  5. Assess Candidates’ Unique Skill Level
  6. Subject Matter Expert Interviews Candidates
  7. Skillwork Interviews Qualified Candidates
  8. Facilitate Virtual Interview With Client & Best Candidate

Our vast network allows us to match your requirements with the best fit for the job. Once we’ve found the right tradesman, we coordinate the logistics of getting them to your location. Contact us today to learn how we can help you get the skilled workers you need when and where you need them.

Talk to a Skillwork Recruiter


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