A Guide to the Skilled Trades Shortage in 2018: How We Got Here and How We Can Start to Fix It

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America’s skilled trades shortage has been making news headlines, and for good reason: Welders, electricians and other skilled workers are hard to find.[1]

Employers in the manufacturing and construction industries are struggling to find qualified job candidates.[2] Even state governments are concerned and spending millions to support vocational training.[3]

So just how severe is the skills gap in 2018?

How Is the Skilled Trades Shortage Affecting the Country?

The need for electricians, welders, HVAC technicians and other types of skilled tradesmen and women has been well documented for years, but how exactly is this shortage affecting major U.S. industries?

Qualified candidates are certainly hard to come by in the construction and manufacturing industries. The chief economist for the National Association of Homebuilders, Robert Dietz, recently said that he’s seen an increasing rate of jobs for carpenters, electricians and masons that go unfilled.

Have You Considered a Career in the Skilled Trades?

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Finding skilled labor isn’t only a problem for building new homes and infrastructure; it’s also a major issue after a natural disaster. After Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, a sufficient number of trained workers simply couldn’t be found to help with the reconstruction of water-damaged cities.[4]

Nationally, 95 percent of the construction contractors who report that they’ll hire new employees in 2018 indicated that they were having challenges finding skilled workers to fill open positions in 2017.[5]

Employers in the manufacturing sector are also grappling with this shortage, and the problem is only expected to get worse. The industry is projected to add 3.5 million jobs by 2015 but predicts a staggering 2 million of them will go unfilled because of the skills gap.[6]

Why Is There a Skilled Trades Shortage?

No one can pinpoint all of the exact reasons, but a few factors have long been cited as major contributors to the problem.

For one, America’s skilled workers are getting older and retiring. In 2012, individuals aged 45 and older accounted for 53 percent of the skilled trade workforce.

Those between the ages of 55 and 64 comprised 18.6 percent of workers.[7] For every five of these older workers who retire, only one new worker enters the trades, according to some estimates.[8]

The Great Recession was also a major drain on trades industries. When they couldn’t find jobs, more than 1.5 million residential construction workers either changed careers or retired. Other experts put the loss to the skilled trades sector in general at around a million workers.[9][10]

Despite the need for skilled workers and unfilled job openings, most young men and women head off to college after high school instead of trade school—70 percent, in fact.

A survey last year found that only three percent of young people preparing for careers were interested in a construction trade.[11]

How Can the Skilled Trades Shortage Be Fixed?

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida brought up the issue of too many young men and women falling into debt for traditional college degrees that fail to land them a job during his 2016 presidential campaign when he said, “welders make more money than philosophers.”[12]

The Bureau of Labor Statistics wage data indicates that welders can earn as much as philosophy teachers.[13][14]

Rubio’s point may have been that people with welding training are more likely to be employed and with less school debt than those with a Ph.D.

Some data supports this argument. Researchers at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that 30 million jobs in the U.S. don’t require a bachelor’s degree and pay an average of $55,000 a year.

Even though trade school grads are more likely to land jobs than their college-educated counterparts, only 8 percent of undergraduates are enrolled in certificate programs, according to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics.[15]

How do we fix this mess? Well, spreading awareness to young people about the career opportunities and benefits of working in the skilled trades may be the first step to addressing the labor shortage.

We Need to Address This Growing Problem

More workers are leaving the skilled trades than entering them. In 2018, the skilled trade shortage appears to only be a growing problem. Educating young men and women about where welding training or electrician classes won’t fix the problem right away, but it would be a great start to closing this widening skills gap.

Learn more about the skilled trades demand and see just how big this problem really is.

Additional Sources

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