Trades Myths Debunked: Robots & Meaning

Your favorite generational myth debunkers are back with another installment of Trades Myths Debunked! We’re tackling the common misconceptions surrounding the next generation and the skilled trades—one myth at a time. If you’re just tuning in, take a moment to peruse our first mythbusting endeavor, wherein we discovered the rumors that trades jobs don’t pay much or don’t require smarts are just a bunch of malarkey. This time, we’ve done some digging on the rumor that AI (artificial intelligence) will take over manufacturing jobs, as well as the perception that the trades don’t offer the chance to make a difference in the world.

1. The trades and manufacturing sectors are shrinking because we now have robots to do those jobs.

For Xers growing up, robots were limited to the Jetsons and Star Wars, but for Gen Z, sci-fi has become reality with Alexa and Rosey—er, Roomba. The next gen is growing up in a world where robots are integrated in how we experience daily life. From self-checkout at Target to self-driving Lyfts, artificial intelligence and robotics have reached their mechanical arms into many sectors of the economy. In fact, Uber just announced its plan to have a fleet of drones delivering Uber Eats by 2021. But is the AI revolution causing trades and manufacturing sectors to shrink?

Before you panic and add “has a human brain” to the skills section of your resume, let’s take a look at the facts. Currently in the trades and manufacturing spheres, there’s a massive wave of job openings and a shortage of (human) talent. Over the next decade, there will be 3.4 million manufacturing jobs—of which 2 million are projected to go unfilled. As recently as 2017, there were a total of 406,000 construction and manufacturing jobs added, and the American Welding Society predicts there will be a shortage of 400,000 operators by 2024. Clearly, there are jobs aplenty in the skilled trades.

While it’s true that technical advancements such as robots and AI are accelerating, fear not—these advancements will increase the need for specialized skills, creating new jobs in areas such as programming, analytics, and troubleshooting. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 3-D printing specialists, robotics engineers, and cybersecurity experts are all new positions that are being created within the manufacturing sector with the introduction of new tech. One job lost to a robot creates another to maintain that robot. And don’t forget—America has survived job automation scares in the past. So, at least for the foreseeable future, rest easy that Optimus Prime probably isn’t coming for your job.

2. I can’t make a difference in a trades or manufacturing career.

In both our research and conversations with clients, we’ve learned that the skilled trades present unique opportunities to touch the lives of the people in the communities they serve. For many carpenters, electricians, and construction workers, there is a deep sense of joy and accomplishment that comes from—quite literally—building the communities they live in. When disaster strikes, trades workers are right behind medical professionals when it comes to responding to the scene and helping victims. For example, in the wake of recent hurricanes, the shortage of construction workers has made circumstances even harder for victims trying to rebuild their homes and schools.

For those in manufacturing, imagine the world without engineers or precision manufacturers that make the medical implants that save patients’ lives every day. Imagine not having the machinists whose work ensures that we have the right tools to make planes fly, or cars go, or computers work. Manufacturers power the world around us in ways many of us have never stopped to think about.

HVAC employees report the sense of pride they get from helping people and their families feel safe and warm in their homes. Our research team interviewed an executive of a family-owned HVAC company, we’ll call her Sally. We asked Sally why she chose HVAC for her career path, and she told us that it was the meaning that stemmed from helping the community. “Coming to this business felt like, wow, I can physically make a difference in someone’s life,” she said. “I really believe we can make people’s lives better here—by employing them and by serving them as our customers… I’m really driven by leaving that footprint in the community.”

Well folks, consider today’s myths BUSTED. Robots replacing all trades jobs? Balderdash! There’s no sense of greater purpose or meaning in trades? Baloney! Spread the word, fight the stigma, and stay tuned. We’ll be back again with more of Trades Myths Debunked!