Jobs in the Trades: Who is Going to do the Work?

What You Need to Know about the Skilled Trades Labor Shortage

Published on Nov 14, 2022

Written by Elaine Pierson

Who is going to do the work report

The trades provide vital services in everyday life. When you can’t get a plumber to your house, an electrician to your business, or a mechanic to fix your car, you feel it. And lately, we’re all feeling the effects of the talent shortage in skilled trades. With one in four skilled trade workers within 10 years of retirement age and younger generations being pushed away from pursuing these careers, the question we’re asking is:

Who is going to do the work? 

In our recent report in partnership with Tallo, an early talent recruiting platform, we address why the labor shortage is happening and offer recommendations for what industries that need skilled trade workers can do about it. 

Skilled Trades Labor Shortage Report

To understand feelings of young people surrounding jobs in the trades, we surveyed 1,500 high school and college-aged students. Here are a few questions we asked: 

  1. Do you believe there is demand for and good earnings to be made in the skilled trades? 

  2. Do you feel pressure to get a bachelor’s degree versus a trade school or associate’s degree?

  3. When you think about careers in construction, manufacturing, maintenance, logistics, etc. (the skilled trades), what are your primary concerns?

So, how did they respond?

Surprisingly, nearly three-quarters of students have heard there is high demand and good money to be made in skilled trade jobs. Then why don’t they pursue a career in them? One significant reason is pressure. 53% of students feel pressure to get a bachelor’s degree from their parents, their friends, and their high school advisors. Concerns about careers in the skilled trades also contribute to students steering away from them. Nearly half of our respondents were intimidated by the associated physical labor, and a third said they preferred to work in a traditional office setting. Environment, unfamiliarity with these jobs, and perceptions about pay are other worries students have regarding the skilled trades.

High school and college-aged students have largely tuned out the skilled trades. 

60-70% of all job openings in the US today do not require a four-year college degree. Many of these jobs are in the skilled trades, yet the majority of high school students still plan to go the college route. We’ve already discussed pressure to go to college and concerns over working conditions in skilled trades, but there are other important aspects that will pose significant challenges for the US going forward.

Changing demographic trends in the US

Today’s typical family structure and the decline in younger generations pursuing careers toward the skilled trades are largely connected. In contrast to the baby boomer generation who grew up with more siblings and an obligation to work, today’s average family has two working parents and less than two children. In the past, many teenagers worked from a young age in construction, maintenance, or agricultural roles. Now, as more parents are able to pay for their children’s advanced education, less young people work in these industries or at all. And when people don’t start early in trade occupations, they will likely end up in others when they are older. 

Teen Labor Force Participation

Lack of exposure to skilled trade occupations

Many students don’t talk to or know people who work in the trades. One study found that only 42% of students have had a conversation about skilled trade careers with someone in the field, and 37% have never had a conversation with anyone about them. This will only worsen as more skilled trades workers retire and are not replaced. Early talent generally believes that working in the trades means lower compensation, less-than-ideal work environments, and limited opportunities for growth. When the reality is that there is good money to be made in the trades and career progression is common. An electrician in Minneapolis? They’re making $73,000 a year, almost as much as microbiologists in the same market, but possibly have greater potential future wages and a greater opportunity to own their own businesses.

Students want the experience of going to college

Bachelor's degree pressure

As was mentioned, over half of students feel pressure from family, friends, and teachers to get a four-year degree as opposed to a certificate from a trade school or an associate’s degree from a community college. Students are approached by colleges on a regular basis with marketing teams dedicated to winning them over. But it’s not only the pressure to attend college, many students say college is just as much about the experience as it is about earning the degree—two-thirds of our respondents feel this way. These combined forces of pressure to get a degree and seeing friends enjoying their college experience are driving high school students away from the skilled trades.

For the economy and society to function, we need to find a balance across careers. 

Many students plan to go to college, but industries who need skilled trades workers shouldn’t lose hope. With appropriate action, the skilled trades can increase awareness of the opportunities their occupations provide and reach younger generations before they choose to take the four-year path or pursue other sectors. 

Download Who is Going to do the Work?  to learn what needs to be done to restore the balance in labor and keep key industries supplied with the right talent.