Who will build it?
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Who will build it?

Addressing the skills gap: What happens if there are no more tradespeople to work in manufacturing?

September 25, 2022

For years, society has encouraged people to pursue careers that require college-level education, meanwhile, trade skills continue to be stigmatized. There are merits to this thinking, but many arguments against skilled trades quickly fall apart. Wages are comparable, if not better, for many trades, there is a wide breadth of career pathways and the technology in the trades is rapidly advancing. Becoming certified in a trade incurs little to no financial debt and while the jobs can be grueling, people involved in them have reported them to be highly fulfilling.

A study conducted by Stanley Black & Decker during August to September 2021, found that among 801 high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors interviewed, 85% of them saw trades as a good career choice, but only 16% were likely to consider it for themselves. According to the study, two inhibiting factors include a lack of education about trade skills, particularly the financial stability they provide, and the overall level of job satisfaction.

Young people are constantly dissuaded by the notion that vocational careers are laborious and not nearly as lucrative as careers requiring an undergraduate degree. However, trade careers are entirely capable of providing a high quality of life and an equally high degree of job satisfaction.

The push toward college has led to a widening chasm between jobs that require trade skills and the individuals capable of filling them.

This chasm is referred to as the skilled trades gap.

Skilled trades are a major contributor to society. For example, the manufacturing skills gap in the U.S. could result in 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030, according to a study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, the workforce development and education partner of the NAM. 

The outlook
No one can predict with certainty the outcome of the growing skills gap. However, we’re already seeing the impact as hiring for manufacturing, construction, service technicians, and contractors is becoming more costly. As the current workforce continues to age out with no plan for succession, the fundamental services they provide must continue functioning.

Technology is evolving to help compensate. Manufacturers, for instance, have always been on the forefront of integrating technological components into their workflow. However, these systems still require repair, preventative maintenance, and manual operators from time to time, requiring skilled technicians and operators.

Addressing the growing skills gap by reducing the need for a large workforce narrows the scope in which the workforce needs to be trained, leading to niche skill sets. The problem now is how to get people interested in wanting to learn these skills, which is why employers and organizations are eager to get younger people interested in learning about the skilled trades.

While there are entities with the necessary clout and capital for large scale training and outreach programs, there’s a disconnect with the audiences they’re trying to reach. Younger generations view their futures holistically, tying together financial stability and overall sense of fulfillment, with the latter holding greater importance. Therefore, they must be approached in ways that define pathways highlighting both ambitions.

For example, the fluid power industry’s two major bodies – the National Fluid Power Association (NFPA) and the International Fluid Power Society (IFPS) – have put forward efforts in line with this approach. The IFPS offers easy pathways to become certified in the field of fluid power by providing access to materials and certification testing. They also host courses, workshops, and seminars to help train individuals in the field of fluid power. The NFPA is affiliated with the NFPA Education and Technology Foundation, which has the sole responsibility of meeting the development needs of the fluid power workforce. They provide resources to encourage young people toward careers in fluid power.

Together, these bodies have pushed the benefits of skills needed within their own niche. More and more, these types of governing organizations must encourage the development of those who may one day become members themselves. 

The other side of the coin
Many employers are holdovers from a generation whose ideologies tend to contradict those of current generations. Some employers (often large scale employers) have instituted practices and work environments leaving workers disgruntled and bitter, resulting in a fervor for unionization.

Employers need to invest time in educating their workforce and themselves on how work is now viewed. Older, more established organizations can’t adhere to practices that don’t change with the workforce.

The need for change is becoming more noticeable, but happens slowly and is rarely ever simple, neat, or straightforward.

Efforts are needed to help shift the perspective of trade skills and remove the stigma surrounding them. Younger generations must be shown how trade skills are the hallmark of true craftspeople. They must have the advantages of these crafts highlighted in ways that connect with them on a personal level.

Trade skills and the ability to work with one’s hands were once considered the realm of the artisan. With trends and nature being as cyclical as they are, perhaps it’s time for that cycle to begin again.

About the author: Gordon Kolasingh is the owner and COO of Orange Seal LLC, an industrial supply and technology company. He can be reached at gordon@orangeseal.us.