Breaking Down Barriers: Why Young Workers Are Overlooking Skilled Trades

Breaking Down Barriers: Why Young Workers Are Overlooking Skilled Trades

In today’s job market, there’s a puzzling trend: fewer young people are showing interest in skilled trades, despite the promising opportunities these careers offer. Skilled trades encompass jobs that require specialized education during or after high school, and they often bypass the need for a traditional four-year college degree. But why aren’t millennials and Gen Z jumping at the chance to pursue these paths?

The College Conundrum

One major reason is the longstanding belief that a successful career starts with a college education. Many baby boomers, who thrived in skilled trades positions, convinced their children that college degrees were the golden ticket to a prosperous future. As a result, the stigma against blue-collar work has persisted, discouraging younger generations from considering technical or hands-on careers.

Busting Myths About Skilled Trades

Several misconceptions contribute to this hesitancy:

  1. Limited Advancement: A 2014 study in Canada found that less than half of students believed they could advance in skilled trades. In reality, there are ample opportunities for skill development and career progression. For example, many with skilled trades end up owning their own businesses. This gives them a flexible work schedule to balance their lives.
  2. Physically Demanding: While some trades involve physical labor, many require fine motor skills and technological know-how. For instance, airplane mechanics utilize their skills without enduring excessive physical strain. Also, most of the work deals with maintenance. One HVAC worker said that 60% of his work deals with doing routine checkups of systems. He said that when installing or replacing a system in hot or cold attic can be challenging, but it doesn’t happen all the time.
  3. Not for Women: The perception that skilled trades are male-dominated is changing. Outreach programs are increasingly encouraging women to explore and excel in these fields. One company owner said he would rather hire one woman instead of three men. He explained that women are hard workers that are detailed and follow instructions well.
  4. Low Pay: Contrary to popular belief, most skilled trades jobs offer high earning potential, often surpassing minimum wage. Additionally, without the burden of student loans, workers can save more of their earnings. Again, using the example of an HVAC specialist, it is common to see hourly rates of $45+ for beginners.
  5. Unrewarding: The stereotype of repetitive, dirty work doesn’t hold true for many skilled trades jobs. Internet infrastructure workers, for example, enjoy varied outdoor work in pleasant weather.

Strategies to Attract Young Workers

Recognizing the impending shortage of skilled trades workers, businesses must adapt to attract younger talent. Here are key strategies:

  1. Training Programs: Establish apprenticeships and partner with educational institutions to create in-house training programs.
  2. Targeted Outreach: Engage with young workers where they are—online and in-person at career fairs. Leverage social media to amplify your company’s presence.
  3. Include Women: Actively seek women for skilled trade roles, demonstrating an inclusive workplace through your employer brand.
  4. Amplify Value: Spread the word about the benefits of skilled trades through information sessions, career pages, and word-of-mouth from satisfied employees.

As the wave of baby boomer retirements approaches, businesses must break down the barriers preventing young workers from entering the skilled trades.