Baby Boomer Retirement and Cultural Shift Provides a Growing Opportunity for Skilled Trades

After analyzing hundreds of job categories across the country, it was found that one of the highest potential job categories is skilled trades. Not only is specific training available without a college degree, thereby avoiding loans and debt, but a large portion of the current workforce is looking at retirement soon, projecting a large need shortly.

A 2013 Forbes article said that the hardest workforce group to staff was the skilled trades and predicted that the gap would only continue to widen. According to Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc., 53 percent of skilled-trade workers in the U.S. in 2012 were 45 years and older, while 18.6 percent were between 55 and 64.

A recent PBS article examined the skill gap as being due, in part, to a culture that had shifted entirely to the push of academic degrees over trades training. After the 1970s and 1980s saw a national emphasis on all students attending college, the trades are trying to rebuild their reputation and change the narrative. Swapping student loans and unused degrees, the trades, and the schools that support and certify them, are looking to reestablish vocational school as a well-respected option. There are many articles now highlighting recent graduates who can take their high school diploma and trade school training and earn more than their academic-degreed counterparts.

This previous gap and culture shift is also being addressed by programs like this California campaign, which is aimed at high school and re-entry students. The campaign is spending $6 million on rebuilding the reputation of vocational education and $200 million on delivery improvements, marketing the programs differently and making the application process both simpler and easier to find.

The campaign is also working to streamline the process by which programs are added. If there is a specific geographic area that needs more workers within an industry, community colleges will be able to add that program to their campuses without the usual roadblocks and red tape that previously existed.

There are also partnerships forming to collaborate on a solution that benefits all parties. For example, Chaffey College, in Rancho Cucamonga, built the InTech Center, which was funded by California Steel as well as other local companies. California Steel invested after not being able to find enough trained workers.

Some vocational training requires only two years and accrues far less debt on the student and/or their families. Coming out of those institutions, skilled trades workers can start earning with only a certificate in hand.

“My personal experience is that I know if I would’ve gone to college, I would have failed miserably,” said Tim Mashek, owner of Service First Fire Sprinkler. “When I finished high school, I was done with school.”

Mashek’s experience echoes that of many. In South Dakota, the path leads you from a laborer, to an apprentice, to a journeyman, to a foreman and then, in his case, to an inspector, to a manager to an owner. Everyone starts as a laborer, doing more of the grunt work and learning how to install pipe. After a probationary period (in Mashek’s case it was one year), he began the apprenticeship program.

He had the ability to study through a series of books (each which came with tests, to certify and advance to the next book) and put in 8,000 “on the job” hours. That equals out to about four years.

“Once I was given the opportunity in the fire sprinkler industry, I found that anyone that stuck with it for four years, their money problems were over,” said Mashek. “Sure enough, it’s the same as a college degree, except you are already in place in a company. You aren’t wondering if you’ll be hired, you just get promoted.”

In the United States, 30 million jobs pay an average of $55,000 per year and don’t require a bachelor’s degree. According to the U.S. Department of Education, those with technical educations are slightly more likely to be employed than those with academic degrees. The Manhattan Institute asserts that 44 percent of college graduates work in jobs that don’t require a degree.



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