Education, recruiting and the trades – a small step can make a big difference

Today we have a guest post from Candace Roulo, senior editor at Contractor magazine.


Since I have been writing for CONTRACTOR magazine, I just had my six-year anniversary in September, education and recruiting in the trades are two issues that continue to be prevalent. No matter what trade show or convention I attend, education and training are key topics that are discussed. Since education and recruiting are of utmost importance to the key associations and industry-specific manufacturers, it only makes sense that industry professionals are starting to rally behind the issues surrounding these topics.

You may have already heard this news… With so many people planning to retire soon from the plumbing, hydronic and HVAC industries, there are not enough people in the trade pipeline to fill all of the future available positions.

During the next 10 years, the country will experience a projected 11% growth in jobs across the board, and the HVACR and plumbing industries are expected to grow by 21%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the HVACR industry is expected to need an additional 55,900 trained technicians; the plumbing industry, an additional 82,300.

You just have to wonder how we will find all these industry professionals, especially since the trades are still looked down upon by so many people. To me, this is the crux of the problem, so the industry needs to change the stereotype.

Of course, I understand that a tradesman/tradeswoman can have a lucrative career and have the opportunity to run his/her own business if he/she chooses to. He or she can also decide after years of hands-on work to go into a corporate environment – many of the people I meet that represent manufacturers are just that – a plumber or HVAC technician that decided to change up their career and work for a manufacturer in a corporate setting, so this proves that there are many paths that can be taken when having a career in the trades.

Everyone involved in the trades understands what a lucrative career this can be — the problem is that people outside of the industry do not know and that is where we are failing as an industry. To me it sounds like we all know what the problems are; we just keep revisiting them at conferences, conventions, seminars, etc. What needs to be done is to go out and promote the trades. We need to go to high schools and talk to counselors and kids about why they should consider studying a trade. This comes down to changing the mindset of the educational system in this county, so high school counselors not only promote college, but trade schools too.

At the moment, state education systems focus more on prepping everyone for college, and vocational classes and electives are being cut because of budget issues, etc., and many of the electives prepping kids for the trades are falling by the way side. So many of the students that are good with their hands and have a knack for technology are missing the boat and not being exposed to the basics of the trades.

In a recent Chicago Tribune’s Sunday Paper an opinion piece about this very topic was printed, Apprenticeship Programs Can Close Skills Gaps by Dick Resch, CEO of KI Furniture. In this piece he writes that the feds can’t solve the nation’s shortage of skilled labor on their own. I completely agree with this observation, so it’s time that we step in!

He also points out that skilled trades require an aptitude for math and technology. He then states that a skilled machinist makes about $60,000 per year and a Master welder can bring in up to $200,000 per year. You have to ask yourself, if this is the case then why are there not enough recruits going into these fields?

The good news is that in Illinois, employers are partnering with municipalities to expand vocational training, according to Resch, and there are vocational centers in a handful of cities teaching high school students skills that will be utilized in careers such as machining and welding.

The great thing about what Resch is doing is that he is bringing in high school students to tour his company and he also offers students internships at KI Furniture. I think the plumbing and HVAC industries need to take Resch’s lead and get kids interested in the trades by opening up their businesses for tours, offering internships and going to schools during career days to discuss the trades, pay ranges of different positions, etc. This would be one small step to take, but a step in the right direction that can make a big difference!

Candace Roulo, senior editor of CONTRACTOR and graduate of Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences, has 15 years of industry experience in the media and construction industries. She covers a variety of mechanical contracting topics, from sustainable construction practices and policy issues affecting contractors to continuing education for industry professionals and the best business practices that contractors can implement to run successful businesses.

Share this: