By David Fantle
If we don’t take steps now to stem the looming shortages in trade jobs, the availability of these services will become harder to secure, the window to complete home improvement projects will become longer and, most likely, remodeling costs will go up at an accelerated rate because of labor shortages to perform this type of work.
For the last three years, according to Milwaukee-based Manpower Group, the hardest segment of the workforce for employers to staff with skilled talent hasn’t been registered nurses or engineers or even web developers. It’s been the skilled trades — the welders, electricians and machinists who are so prevalent in manufacturing and home improvement-related construction work.
But if these skilled-trades workers are difficult for employers to find now, as Manpower’s survey suggests, this skills gap is expected to become more problematic in the years ahead.
It’s important to debunk the notion that these skilled trade jobs, many requiring a technical degree or high school diploma, are less desirable than careers requiring at least a four-year college degree. In fact, jobs in the skilled trades are in demand and almost all provide family-sustaining salaries. And most employers are willing to be patient, train and give a new worker ample opportunities to succeed.
In the Milwaukee area, the local chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry recently has formed a workforce development committee and is working with its nonprofit foundation, area technical colleges, regional workforce development agencies, youth organizations and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development to educate and recruit people into these viable professions.
Looming shortages in the trades are due to factors such as: an aging workforce, with many contractors nearing retirement; a retreat of workers from skilled trades into other careers (or unemployment) following the 2008-’09 recession; a shortage of young people entering those fields; and rising material and transportation costs.
Bold steps are needed to encourage young people on the viability of these types of careers. The Manufacturing Institute, an affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers, reports that currently in the U.S. there are 600,000 skilled jobs, such as electricians, roofing, siding, landscapers, plumbers, carpenters and masons, going unfilled. By 2020, the study suggests there will be a need for 10 million new skilled workers.
Milwaukee/NARI as an adjunct to its annual Home Improvement Show held a Job Fair at the State Fair Expo Center. More than 25 NARI member companies participated, accepting resumes and dispensing career advice. It offered the opportunity to match employers with job seekers looking for potential new opportunities in the skilled trades. It’s just another initiative to close the skills gaps and introduce viable career opportunities.
David Fantle is executive director of Milwaukee/NARI. Portions of this post recently appeared in the Opinions section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.