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On National Skilled Trades Day, America’s Labor Shortage Looms

Posted on Wednesday, May 3, 2023
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by Outside Contributor
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Labor

It may be America’s most important uncelebrated holiday.

May 3 is National Skilled Trades Day, and it comes at a time when employers are scrambling to find 400,000 welders, 78,000 truck drivers, 18,000 aircraft mechanics, and enough certified EV technicians to fully staff electric vehicle repair facilities.

Stephanie Ferguson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says, “There are more than 10 million job openings in the U.S. — but only 5.7 million unemployed workers.”

And a disproportionate number of those unfilled jobs are skilled labor, not white-collar work.

“This shortage is a direct consequence of politicians deciding that the ‘key to success’ is a college education,” says Antony Davies, an associate professor of economics at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University. “They’ve spent the past half-century — from the GI Bill to subsidized student loans to standardized testing to (possibly) loan forgiveness — pushing students into college. The result is that fewer students go into the trades, and colleges create low-value fields of study to attract students who aren’t best suited to a college education.”

In the last half of the 20th century, Americans who obtained a bachelor’s degree consistently earned more over their careers than non-degree holders. But that earnings edge has been eroding for years due to soaring tuition costs, student loan debt, and corporate America’s insistence on demanding college degrees for even the lowliest positions. Today, the median bachelor’s degree has a net return on investment (increase in lifetime earnings minus tuition) of $306,000, according to the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.

While some degrees are worth millions of dollars in return on investment — computer and engineering programs, for example — others have no net financial value or even a negative return on investment.

Meanwhile, young people who enter the skilled trades workforce after completing training at a proprietary school, community college or union apprenticeship program can earn significant money and enjoy the security of knowing their skills will almost always be in demand. The median salary for a respiratory therapist is $98,000. Construction managers earn a median of $120,000, while elevator mechanics earn $88,000. The list goes on and on.  And some of these trade-school-trained young people eventually end up in the management positions so desperately sought by college grads.

“There’s a huge need for more workers across the HVAC and plumbing industry,” said Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association chairman Kevin Tindall. “Contractor business owners are looking for HVAC and plumbing technicians coming out of apprenticeship programs and trade schools, but we hear manufacturers and suppliers also have open marketing, sales and management positions to fill. A skilled trade education can be an advantage in finding a job with those employers.”

Despite these realities, policymakers and many Americans view trade jobs as having a lower status than even the most menial work done by college degree holders.

“There’s a misconception about men and women in the trades,” says Jim Snell, business manager of Steamfitters Local 420 in Philadelphia. “Few people really understand or appreciate the level of education and training these workers receive. In many cases, these men and women are getting on-the-job training while they’re studying and learning their craft, and they usually go into a good-paying job immediately after graduation.”

Part of the challenge is that skilled laborers tend to be older, and older workers left the workforce in large numbers during the COVID crisis. As workers age out of the skilled trades, reports the staffing firm PeopleReady, fewer younger workers enter these files. Its data show 40 percent of the 12 million people in the skilled trades workforce are over the age of 45, with nearly half of those workers over the age of 55.

“Fewer than 9 percent of workers aged 19-24 are entering the trades,” it reports.

“We’ve kind of demonized working with your hands in this country,” said Ryan Waguespack, a senior adviser for the National Air Transport Association, representing the general aviation industry. “There’s an image out there of aircraft mechanics as grease-covered guys with a wrench. Today’s planes are sophisticated computers that can fly. Aviation techs can make $100 per hour at a major airline. So, we need to slough off some old notions.”

National Skilled Trades Day is a great time to do that.

Randall Bloomquist is a veteran journalist who writes about business and industry for InsideSources.

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Michael J
Michael J
1 year ago

When liberal arts became the only option vs industrial arts, the demise of skilled labor was inevitable. Society is now paying (literally) for this short-sightedness.

Ann S
Ann S
1 year ago

They will start appreciating these trades men when they need a plumber, electrician or a carpenter and none is available.
Working with your hands has always been worth more than so called book learning. Only many boomers decided they were not necessary and all trade schools were done away with.
Good luck you with your nose in the air to get a tradesman when you need one. You created it to send your child to college and party for 4 years and now has no job for he/she knows no more than when he/she went in. While he could be having his own business as a tradesman.

TOMASD
TOMASD
1 year ago

People are finally waking up. Besides college, the other problem is that many younger Americans don’t want to work with their hands. Many don’t want to do physical labor at all. What a shame and frankly, an embarrassment. Many younger Americans have no idea how to do simple fixes in their homes. They are more than willing to overpay someone for something that shouldn’t require more than a little bit of knowledge and elbow grease. What a difference from when people took pride in doing things themselves.

Stephen Russell
Stephen Russell
1 year ago

Skills needed:
AI Tech
Robotics
Med Tech
Bionics Tech
EV Assembly
Plant Automation
Drone programming
AI programming
Seasteading.org
Orbital Structures
HyperLoop Planning
DeepFake ID
CGI Tech
RR Planner
3D Eng Planner

Add More

Rob citizenship
Rob citizenship
1 year ago

The idea of Craftsmanship, something great to think about, to develop the skills , the knowledge and the spirit needed to do things that are needed, keeping high quality work in mind, and the ethics involved in making things that will contribute to the betterment of life in someway. Good character and Craftsmanship complement each other , considering qualities like honesty, responsibility , and respect . I started to design and make tools in 1975 . Went for a few university studies occasionally over the years, such as foreign languages, business law, land surveying . Being able to make what is needed, in times of emergency for example, like due to a storm like a hurricane, the sort of skill , the knowledge required to be resourceful is a survival skill for sure . This National Skilled Trades day is a good idea. The concept of a combination of mechanical knowledge and academics makes good sense , when new ideas are necessary to accomplish certain things it is very often a case of knowledge involving the history of whatever it is that needs a new approach and the mechanical skill to make the necessary changes possible. So, mathematics, mechanical skill, engineering knowledge, history, law can interconnect and being prepared for understanding how things interconnect is sensible and useful. Having a work ethic that respects clear, intelligent communication is of great importance , when people understand each other projects are accomplished in the right way and that provides the right spirit for any task, any project.

NewDay
NewDay
1 year ago

As long as the government is paying people to stay home there’s not much incentive to get up off the couch and go to work.

Barrett Smith
Barrett Smith
1 year ago

Trade schools are looking better and better.

Lieutenant Beale
Lieutenant Beale
1 year ago

Now if Troll Of Many Names would just get a freakin’ job instead of writing these asinine comments all day long, there wouldn’t be a labor shortage and the Troll would be productive and have a little bank to boot. Win-Win !!!

Casey C Matt
Casey C Matt
1 year ago

the issue isnt caused by politicians informing kids that liberal arts degrees are the way to go…….its worse. Young people actually feel literally entitled…….Free money with no work, free everything…….thats why kids live at their parents homes til they are in their 40s moving out only because they have insufficient funds to keep the lights on when those parents die and leave them their home.
This country is dead…………and no it is not salvagable

Big Dave
Big Dave
1 year ago

In 1968 I went to work for Pratt and Whitney Aircraft as a Tool, Die and Gage Maker trainee. In the next 2 1/2 years I was paid decent wages to be taught my trade, time spent equal to or excedeing most Bachelor degree programs. Spent the rest of my working life in well paid work as a Tool and Die maker or Master Machinist. I might have gone to college for an engineering degree and graduated many thousand dollars in debt. Instead I earned enough to raise a family while going to school. Made a lot of sence to me.

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