Never Say Die: Braving the Skilled Trades Shortage

From electricians to carpenters and manufacturing engineers, 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 We’ve seen our fair share of articles bemoaning the skills shortage and outdated recruitment tactics, and in the spirit of “new year, new me,” we think it’s important to help this industry get back on the horse and renew some hiring tactics.

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 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 Z and are markedly different from previous generations’ experiences. It's precisely why a generational take on this dilemma is worth researchers’ time and is critical for leaders in the industry who hope to build a robust talent pipeline of next-generation workers.

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 Z have distinct expectations for the workforce that don’t align with the outdated recruiting practices that are still 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 Zers will be key to bridging the trades gap.