How Will Professional Tradesmen Jobs of the Future Be Filled?

There’s a lot of talk about manufacturing jobs continuing to go away in this country. But when I talk to manufacturers, one of the biggest issues they talk about domestically is finding qualified help. Apprentice programs for tool and die makers are shrinking due to lack of interest. Even factory production jobs aren’t menial labor jobs anymore. It takes skill and training to run CNC or other sophisticated machines.

The same is true with professional tradesmen in the contracting field. Talk to a plumbing or electrical contractor and they say the same thing. There aren’t enough young folks getting into those trades as well.

So what’s the problem? A good plumber or electrician can make a very good living and their jobs can’t be outsourced. I used to belong to a country club and next to doctors, contractors were the next biggest category of members! NJATC, IBEW and other trade associations and unions have training programs in place. Spokespeople like Mike Rowe has a passion to get more people into the trades. He’s even testified in Washington about the challenges that face us as a nation.

The same holds true in the manufacturing sector. There are good jobs for those that are trained properly. I know Skills for America’s Future and the Manufacturing Institute are trying to work with community colleges to develop successful programs so young folks can enter the workforce with skill sets necessary to get and keep a good job. Even President Obama is endorsing a manufacturing skills credentialing system and I hope it’s going to be more than window dressing.

The problem, in my opinion, is perception by young people that those kinds of jobs aren’t cool and they are low paying. Also most guidance counselors with most high schools are pointing everyone to college. Not everyone is 4-year college material. What young people don’t realize is that a plumber or  journeyman electrician makes more than 4-year college graduates and they don’t have all those student loans to pay off.

Our challenge as an industry is to somehow mount a campaign to kids at an early age to show them that these kinds of jobs are cool and just as important, if not more so, than someone sitting behind a desk. Ideally, trade and manufacturing associations should come together and mount a public service campaign. Someone has to take the first step and we need someone visible enough to carry the message and credibility to the young folks.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on how we can secure the future for our kids.

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  1. sleibson2

    Hi John,

    A most timely post. In two days, a new TechShop opens three blocks from my home. What’s a TechShop? Think of the monthly membership of Gold’s Gym but instead of exercise machines, they have milling machines, lathes, MIG and TIG welders, laser cutters, plasma and water-jet cutters, drill presses, hand tools, industrial sewing machines, and hand tools. Add in the vibe of being in a place exclusively populated by people who like making things and working with their hands and you have a real incubator for young people to experience the joy of doing something more than typing on a keyboard. I firmly believe that we need these kinds of places to become far more common to encourage young people to consider careers related to these activities.

    • tradesmeninsights

      thanks for sharing. i wonder who thought up the idea? I would think local businesses would/could subsidize them if needed. please keep us updated as to how it’s being accepted.

  2. Russ

    You hit a very hot topic. I agree with everything you have commented on.


    1) The high school counselors nor the parents don’t dare say that their child is NOT college material. Fact is a lot of kids are not college material. I have seen it many times, parents pays 20k for the first year in college and the students dont go back. The defeated feeling of failing puts them in a star bucks. What about a trade PARENTS! What happens to the folks that fail at college. That right I said it. FAIL! We are not in grade school anymore folks. Not everyone gets an award for just showing up. How to a get the data base for those that failed in there first year of college? That would be a good start. Some of those folks go into the military.

    “What young people don’t realize is that a plumber or journeyman electrician makes more than 4-year college graduates and they don’t have all those student loans to pay off.”
    While this is a true statement the flip side is college grads in the long run do make more money than non college folks depending your major. That is a statistical fact. Question goes back to this, are the students skilled, driven and have the aptitude to complete a 4 year degree.

    2) Our tech schools have to stop telling these new students that they are going to make 60k as soon as they graduate from a two year program. Like any profession it takes time to learn your craft. Does not take much time to learn to run a cashier station at walmart but then again your not making $20/hr hour now or in the near future at a walmart.

    3) Be honest (not discouraging) with the young and old. Hvac,my profession, I tell my new hires, it is hot when you show up and cool when you leave. Point: it is hard work, but very rewarding. I fix hvac equipment and when I fix a complex problem I can hear the crowd cheering like I am in a football stadium. The adulation feeling I get comes from within.

    4) A good screening test would be helpful. Like college not everyone can make it in the trades. Would be really helpful to have a screening test to see if there is a fit for the trade.

    Your are right about a spokesman for the trades. Great idea! I did not know that Mike Rowe did that. I mentioned this to a Trane rep years ago and he told me we had a spokesman. Dave Lennox. He was serious. Dave Lennox is not a spokesman for the trades. He is a spokesman for LENNOX.That is all.

    5) Glamor sells! My wife told me once its more glamorous to have brain cancer than colon cancer. Well we need to SELL daily to the world that working as an electrician or snaking a drain is just as glamorous as being a lawyer or a doctor. When the toilet backs up the guy that snakes it is a hero. The industry would do well to have more advertising in the mainstream media.

    Hopefully this get out to the the world and opens a few minds about our profession.


    • tradesmeninsights

      thanks for some great points. we all need to keep telling young folks that they do have options. Mike Rowe shares this passion and I would love to make him hte national spokes person but Idoubt that will ever happen. Check out his site We need trade groups like the ASA, PHCC and others to join together on a bigger push. That in itself is a challenge.

  3. John Barba

    Made a presentation on this very topic at the Oil Heat Service Manager’s Convention three years ago (slideshare program link: The numbers are staggering!

    According to PHCC, plumbing jobs will grow 17%, and HVAC jobs by 29% by 2014 – that’s natural growth of mostly service/replacement type work. If you factor in retirement and attrition, that’s another 60,000 plumbing jobs and 27,000 HVAC techs. Added up, nearly 700,000 new bodes are going to be needed in the PHC trades by 2014…these are jobs that need to be filled, because the work needs to be done!

    The Perkins Act certainly helps – promoting trade education in schools, and trade associations must work to promote these professions. Next, it’s incumbent on the manufacturers, reps and wholesalers to promote continuing education and training for these folks to keep them up to date on the latest technology. Finally, it’s ultimately the responsibility of the contractor him (or her) self to run their business profitably and responsibly so that their employees may have a rewarding and satisfying career.

    Lastly, I would suggest we stop differentiating people as “college material” or “not college material.” In my mind, that sets up the trades as a vocation for someone who can’t hack academics or who aren’t “smart” enough for something better. I know that’s not what anyone means, but by phrasing it that way, we tend to perpetuate stereotypes. Maybe better to say that someone has the aptitude to develop the needed skills…

    Thanks for writing the blog post John — it’s an important topic.

  4. Waiting for tradesmen

    They say that in every manufacturing firm, the human resources is the most precious resource, and it can’t actually be overstated. However, many companies face the dillema of having to fill-in vacancies with people who are under qualified or mismatched qualifications.

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