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Waking The Dead: New life for the trade industry?

By Jodie Swee

In ‘Scary Stats’ Volume 1, I wrote about the fact that Millennials are haunted by debt, the majority of it from student loans. It will change their landscape and have a significant impact on all of our lives and businesses for years to come. So what can we do to prevent future generations from going down the same path?

It’s time to reinvest in the trade industry as a viable career option. In doing so we might just solve two major workplace issues with one solution, as the trade industry is also struggling with their own woes. According to the 2018 Manpower Group Talent Shortage survey, skilled trade jobs such as those held by electricians, welders, and mechanics are the hardest to fill for the sixth year in a row. Not only that, but over half of skilled trade workers are 53 years of age or older. That means over half of our trades workers will be retiring in the next 10-20 years, and there is a lot of job opportunity for younger generations.

Sadly, few are being encouraged to pursue this path, and we are going to have a huge shortage of skilled workers that are needed for our society to function. Skilled workers are literally responsible for keeping roofs over our heads and giving those of us lucky enough to live in developed countries access to clean water. They play important and needed roles in our lives, and yet pursuing a trade out of high school is seen by many as an inferior choice to college. We are living with the misconception that to pursue the “American Dream” means to get a bachelor’s degree, at the very least. And yet, what is the American Dream? Isn’t it to have the freedom to live well? That’s hard to do when you live under the shadow of a lifetime of debt.

According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, there are 30 million jobs in the United States that pay an average of $55,000 per year (with room to grow) that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. Not only that, the U.S. Department of Education reports people with trade educations are more likely to be employed than their peers, and they are significantly more likely to be working in their field of study.

I recently had an opportunity to speak at the luncheon of a golf tournament for some fine folks from the West Suburban Association of Plumbing Contractors. It was a glorious fall day, perfect for golfing. To be honest, I don’t know how thrilled I would have been to have to sit through a 45-minute presentation on overcoming generational differences when the sun was shining, and the links were calling my name, but there was a great turnout and those folks were engaged. They are living in the realities of this shortage and are incredibly interested in finding ways to combat it.

We have a generation saddled by student loan debt because we effectively removed a great career alternative in the skilled trade industry. Let’s do better for future generations and for the industry that supports all of our lives.


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