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In recent years there’s been a widening gap between unemployment and job availability. The interesting part is that the gap isn’t because there aren’t enough jobs to go around, instead there are a plethora of jobs, but not enough workers to fill open positions. In theory, a huge job market sounds like a great problem. However, the truth is that without enough available skilled workers, many jobs are sitting vacant. This causes businesses to suffer because they can’t move their ships (or businesses) forward without people steering.

There has also been a trend in rising costs specifically in construction-related materials such as crude oil, metals, lumber and raw materials. This rise in cost combined with the shortage of labor has caused construction industry prices to climb sharply.

A shift is happening within skilled labor jobs

Working-class baby boomers are retiring in droves and younger workers aren’t filling in the gaps. This is creating huge holes that were previously occupied by this elder generation.  Older skilled workers have perfected their crafts and become efficient at their careers, and many employers aren’t willing to foot the bill for training programs to get younger workers up to speed.

The generational thought gap

As our world and education becomes more technologically focused, there is less emphasis on skilled trades. Once referred to as blue-collar jobs, the trades are looked upon as less than appealing.  Many colleges and universities boast courses in tech-driven areas rather than trade or occupational roles. In 2019, the number of available jobs grew faster than the number of people seeking employment. In general, employers are having a harder time filling skilled labor positions than they are filling college degreed jobs.  Another societal and educational shift is that more students are encouraged to attend colleges and universities.  Some are rewarded with professional careers, yet many students take temporary less-skilled jobs; the result is being under-employed in order to repay student debt. Manufacturing and/or the trades is seen as shop, and skilled trades are marginalized.  Students that are exposed to careers as mechanics, craftsmen, electricians, welders and plumbers are more aware of the discipline and training required to be successful in their careers.

The Hiring Discrepancy

Some businesses, specifically in building trades, are trying to address the labor shortage by hiring immigrant workers. (Legal vs. illegal migrate workers is not a discussion we plan on debating.)  Some estimates are that as much as 30 percent of the construction workforce being led by immigrants. Many firms outsource projects to day laborers in order to remain competitive throughout the bidding and building processes. With the more recent fears and threats of deportation, many laborers have decided to exit the US market. This has had far reaching impacts in several markets, outside of construction. For instance, the farming industry does not have enough workers to hire pickers and cultivators. Travel and tourism is suffering from the shortage; restaurant workers and hotel laborers are in a dramatic shortage of workers, which directly impacts the travel and tourism industries.  The transportation industry and construction industries also face shortages.  Our highly educated young workforce is not interested in these career choices.

There is a solution

There are ways to solve the labor shortage problem. We, as a society, need to invest in vocational and technical training programs and certifications for high school or at the collegiate level. By promoting these programs, students have to ability to practice and perfect skills that they may not have previously known existed.  Another solution is to offer internships or partner with local trade schools to provide training enrolled students. In this approach, all parties benefit, and students are shown a path to opportunity. Students get hands-on experience that prepares them for future roles and employers have immediate access to the emerging workforce. Another way to bridge the gap is for employers to promote themselves to potential candidates. This may take some creativity, like offering worksite perks that stand out, or flexible schedules. It is also important to have competitive pay and good healthcare benefits for employees, demonstrating that the trades are alternative career choices, not a step-down from a college degreed position.

The reality is…

The labor gap is widening. If conditions don’t drastically improve, it will slow economic growth and have huge impacts on many different industries.  The first step is to recognize the U.S. labor shortage is a very real problem that needs several very real solutions.  There needs to be a shift in perception and ongoing incentives for the skilled labor force.

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