How can we recruit more of the younger generations into the trades?

Truthfully, the conversation isn’t just about the so-called Millennial generation, but about younger workers in general. For a quick primer on generations:

  • Baby Boom: 1946 to 1964
  • Generation X: 1965 to 1979
  • Generation Y (Millennials): 1980 to 1994
  • Generation Z: 1995 to 2015

Some members of the baby boomer generation enjoyed the golden age of manufacturing, when unions were strong, employment was reliable and well paid, and you could work for the same company for your entire adult life and retire with a company pension. Manufacturing jobs were respected as a career choice in those days.

Misplaced Disrespect for the Trades

The culture shifted for the Generation X, with increasing numbers of people going to college. Many manufacturing jobs lost their shine, as once-reliable big-name employers started laying off workers.

That’s just part of the dynamic which may be responsible for the aversion to the trades we see in many Millennials and Generation Z people. They came of age during a time of declining stability for manufacturing workers, aligned with increased college attendance rates, and cultural dismissal of people who work in the trades as “less than”.

The fact is that these myths do a disservice to young people who might really thrive in the trades. These myths have also contributed to the skilled labor shortage we’re seeing today, and the reduced access to vocational training compared to past generations.

Legitimizing Employment in the Trades

As a culture, we need to legitimize work in the trades. It’s a rich and rewarding field for lots of people, some of whom will struggle in traditional white-collar work, not due to lack of intelligence but due to lack of affinity for the work. Some people prefer to work with their hands, to see concrete results of their labor, to be outside, and to stay physically active.

The trades offer all these attractions, plus they offer plentiful rewards for smart, dedicated problem solvers. The stereotype of tradespeople lacking intelligence or talent is utterly misplaced. Many tradespeople discover entrepreneurial brilliance within themselves and launch profitable and successful businesses in building and manufacturing. These are rewarding roles for technical and digital skills in the trades, enabling a quick rise to stable, high paying and respected positions.

High Pay without High Educational Expenses

Its also more important than ever that young people critically evaluate whether an academic degree is the right path for them. Average college debt for 2019 graduates is around $30,000. Debt can easily double or triple that for advanced degrees and/or prestigious schools. These expenses are worthwhile when they help someone fulfill a dream, but they are not a guarantee of well-paid employment or job satisfaction.

Instead, young people should be encouraged to explore other options, such as vocational training. They may be able to get a great job with minimal expenditure of time and money, and quickly be earning $40K, $50K, $60K instead of racking up debt at college.

Rich Opportunities for Growth

The best way to end the current shortage of skilled labor is to help shift the culture. Let’s emphasize that the trades are interesting, exciting, and rich with opportunity. Today’s technology ensures that workers will always have the opportunity to learn new skills and grow personally and professionally.