For years, I’ve asked young people about their career goals and rarely do I hear “I want to get into construction or the service industry”. So the question I keep asking is “Why not the trades?”
The statistics are clear about college graduation rates. Most don’t finish. According to Collegeatlas.org, 56% of students who started at a 4-year college drop out byt the end of the 6th year. 30% of college freshmen drop out after their first year of college. In a July 8, 2018 column in Entrepreneur.com by Rose Leadem, she cites that 30% of students worldwide only go to a 4-year college because they think it’s the natural progression after high school. Another 23% only go because it’s expected of them.
A few years ago, a friend of mine in the HVAC industry quoted that over the next 5 years, Pennsylvania is short 25,000 HVAC technicians in order to fill the needed jobs. With Baby Boomers retiring at a rate of approximately 10,000 per day, the difficulty in replacing that experience becomes more difficult every year. The current demographic trough that we find ourselves in as a result of the shear numbers of Baby Boomers (76 million) versus Gen X’ers (41 million) does not begin to self-correct until after 2024. Meaning; there are just not enough people to fill the available positions in the workforce. And, to make matters worse in State College, we have a university that is a magnet for high school students anywhere within a 30 mile radius of University Park.
So here’s the challenge for all of us in the construction trades and other service industries; we need to start selling ourselves for the career opportunities that we truly are. Starting hourly wages have gone up drastically in the past few years and due to supply an demand, it doesn’t look that is going to change anytime soon. Many of us are focusing a lot more on safety and technology to help make sure our people are returning home in the same condition in which the arrived. If we all start treating our employees like the professionals that they are, then we’ll begin changing the paradigm that still exists in many organizations. I like to tell my service techs that they are like a medical doctor, except that in their case, their patient (heat pump, furnace, water heater) can tell them what hurts. They have to diagnose the problem without the benefit of all the information.
So the challenge is this: we need to convince the parents of school-age children that there are alternatives to a 4-year college and that since there is a better than 50% chance they won’t even graduate, take a look at the ever-growing demand for craft workers and endless opportunities that our industry provides.