Photo of Never Say Die: Braving the Skilled Trades Shortage

Never Say Die: Braving the Skilled Trades Shortage

Power tools strewn about. Rusted nails only half driven into walls. A flickering fluorescent light, and walls spattered crimson from a hastily tipped paint bucket. This crime scene depicts the demise of yet another industry at the hands of those insidious Millennials. It’s a movie we’ve seen before (think chain restaurants, cable, even cereal!), just a different victim—namely, the trades. But instead of surrendering to the Dawn of the Trades, we’re here to propose an alternate ending.

Setting the Scene
It’s 2018, and American manufacturing is still struggling to find qualified workers. From electricians and carpenters to manufacturing engineers and other specialists, companies have been struggling to hire skilled tradespeople since at least 2010. We’ve seen our fair share of articles bemoaning the skills shortage and outdated recruitment tactics, and in the spirit of “new year, new me,” we think it’s important to help this industry get back on the horse and renew their hiring tactics. (Though it might take a tad more time than 2018 has to offer.)

What is the trades gap?
The trades gap is the skilled labor shortage in trades and manufacturing. The industry is struggling to recruit and retain Millennial workers that meet their needs while Boomers retire in droves.

The Plot Thickens
Here’s the deal. In 2015, Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute predicted that over the next decade, there will be 3.4 million manufacturing jobs—of which 2 million will go unfilled. Their hopes for grooming future talent to fill those gaps? Meager. Today’s teenagers don’t aspire to work in manufacturing; 52% have no interest in such a career. A common misperception of the industry plagues 21st century minds, where many of us, especially the next generation, assume it’s dirty, dangerous work for the uneducated. There are other issues at play, but the fact of the matter is that the skilled trades (electricians, carpenters, welders, and many more) have consistently been the #1 most difficult jobs to fill from 2010–2016. A final dollop of numbers to add to this mess: Accenture and The Manufacturing Institute calculated that the average manufacturing company is losing $4.6 million annually because of the skills shortage. Yikes.

The trades gap is a real issue, and we’re seeing it through secondary research and our client work. Teenagers aren’t interested in the industry and are instead being influenced by peers, parents, teachers, and counselors to pursue college degrees. Furthermore, working in the trades used to be a family legacy, but younger generations are less likely to follow in their blue-collar parents’ footsteps. These are formative conditions for Millennials and Gen Edge and are markedly different from previous generations’ experiences. It’s precisely why a generational take on this dilemma is worth researchers’ time and critical for leaders in the industry who hope to build a robust talent pipeline of next-generation laborers.

Despite the myriad articles and reports documenting the trades gap, the generations topic is rarely used to develop actionable strategies. While there are many nuances to consider, we believe applying generational theory can help jumpstart reparations. Millennials and Gen Edge have distinct expectations for the workforce that don’t align with the outdated recruiting practices that are used in manufacturing today. What once worked for previous generations will not necessarily work for the next; discerning the related traits and values of Millennials and Edgers will be key to bridging the trades gap.