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Partnering for a Better Tomorrow

By Heather Thomton-Stockman

Recently I had the pleasure of presenting a series of Generations@Work trainings for a local construction company. With each training I was reminded of just how significant the Skilled Trades Industry is to our daily lives. Without the Skilled Trades, we wouldn’t have roofs over our heads, hospitals for medical care, clean water to drink, safe roads to travel on, and the list goes on.

Each time I have the privilege to speak with a group of Skilled Trades professionals, I am always in awe at the pride expressed in their profession. It is truly commendable and admirable. 

In such a prideful industry, it then begs the question why are the trades experiencing such a significant workforce crisis, with even worsening projections looming?

The answer starts in the 1980s as Career Technical Education (CTE) began to decline and the prospect of a college education took its place. Between 1990 and 2009, earned high school CTE credits dropped by 14% according to The Brookings Institute. As college became the go-to path for high school students, a stigma around the trades began to form.

But that trend has started to reverse itself as schools are re-integrating CTE programs back into their curriculum. Examples of these successes can be seen from coast to coast. And there is no better time than now for the Skilled Trades Industry to tell its story, reposition itself for the future, and engage the next generation of workforce talent. 

Building the future of the Skilled Trades Industry now will serve dividends in the future. And when looking to build the future, industry and education must align. 

Generation Z is a driven, motivated, pragmatic, and entrepreneurial generation seeking financial security and stability. Each of these characteristics positions this generation as an excellent audience for the trades to tell its story to. 

Just as colleges are in the schools talking to students, trades professionals need to also be in the schools talking to students. And not just in the high schools but also in the middle and elementary schools as we are finding students are picking professions younger and younger each year. 

Huntley Brothers Company, Inc. out of North Carolina knows the value of partnering with education. In fact, Huntley Brothers has taken the development of the next generation workforce very seriously. As a result, they are thriving. 

As a registered apprenticeship program partner with the state of North Carolina, last summer Huntley Brothers employed eleven high school students. While the student workers earned money and high school credit, Huntley Brothers benefited from excellent employees. A mutually beneficial partnership.

In addition to the apprenticeship program, in 2018 Huntley Brothers also participated in a high school pilot program that introduced students to the industry and provided hands-on learning experiences. From the pilot program, Huntley Brothers hired five summer employees and all five have committed to coming on full-time after graduation. 

Because of its future-focused perspective, Huntley Brothers has experienced rapid, successful growth in the seven years it has been in existence. With high retention rates and an average employee age being under the age of 30 – in and industry where typically the average age is 54 – trades professionals across the country can learn from Huntley Brothers’ success. Their model for partnering with education is helping them thrive and engage their next generation workforce. 

It is when business and education align that we will see true workforce solutions emerge. Our youngest generations want hands-on learning, let’s give them those opportunities and work together to solve the workforce crisis.


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