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A recent survey by RIDGID, a leading supplier of professional grade tools, reveals that a scant 6 percent of high school students hope to have a future career in the skilled trades – defined as plumbers, carpenters, electricians, heating, ventilation or air conditioning installers, or repair people.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2014 the U.S. will need 29 percent more HVACR and 21 percent more plumbing technicians, a total of more than 100,000 skilled workers in the job pool. Among the 500,000 plumbers in the United States alone, the demand is expected to grow 10 percent by 2016, however, due to an aging generation of skilled professionals, more than a third of all plumbers – or approximately 167,000 workers – will be exiting the workforce.
“The economy hit construction hard, no doubt,” says Fred Pond, president of RIDGID. “However, the realities of an aging infrastructure, urbanization and a mature workforce all remain. When this turns around, and it will, demand for skilled labor will be significant.”
“There is definitely a shortage of skilled plumbers,” said Brian Shields, owner of Brian Shields Plumbing Inc. “I’ve been a plumber for 20 years and there are no skilled plumbers in my area that I feel comfortable employing. I had to travel to another state to find someone who was willing to learn the trade. I’m one of a dying breed.”
“On-site labor is one thing that cannot be outsourced,” says Wyatt Kilmartin, director, RIDGID branding. “Young people need to know that historically there is a high demand and great future potential – including the opportunity to own and operate your own business – that comes with a career in the skilled trades.”
The survey was conducted by KeyStat Marketing and Greenfield Online to ensure statistical integrity. The nationwide sample was divided between 80 percent males and 20 percent females, for a total sample size of 1,023. All respondents were high school students’ age 14 to 18 years who were currently enrolled in ninth through 12th grade.
From the pool of 94 percent of students who are not interested in pursuing a career in the trades, respondents revealed multiple factors that may be hindering them, such as a lack of knowledge about the industry, and the overall perception of the skilled trades.
Why aren’t students interested in the skilled trades?
· 53 percent of students say working in the trades just doesn’t interest them.
· 25 percent of students cite they are not interested in working in the skilled trades because they are not mechanically inclined, while 24 percent say they are not good at fixing things.
· 21 percent of students who would not consider a career in the skilled trades say it’s because they don’t know enough about it.
· 15 percent of students would not consider a career in the skilled trades because they don’t believe there is a lot of opportunity in the skilled trades.
· 11 percent of students were not interested because they don’t think the trades are cool.
· 10 percent of students say skilled trades were not high tech enough.
In addition, all students who were surveyed revealed their impressions of jobs in the skilled trades.
· 54 percent of young people believe there is a better future working in computers than working in skilled trades.
· 37 percent of young people believe working in an office is more respected than working with your hands.
· 25 percent of young people believe skilled trades jobs are old-fashioned.
Where Young People Want To Work
So, what’s the No. 1 field of interest for graduating seniors? RIDGID’s survey results show 25 percent of students hope to work in a career with computers or the Internet. The next most popular fields of interest include business (16 percent); engineering (15 percent); healthcare, defined as doctors, nurses, assistants and technicians (15 percent); and the entertainment/arts field, defined as actor, musician, TV anchor, reporter and producer (15 percent).
“The problem with kids not pursuing a career in the skilled trades is largely because they are not introduced to it,” said Mark Yochim, licensed Plumbing Contractor and owner of Mark A. Yochim and Associates. “When I was in school 40 years ago, you could pick up a class in industrial arts and get a feel for working with tools. Today, kids don’t have that opportunity.”
Based on RIDGID’s survey results, there appears to be an opportunity to draw a new audience into the skilled trades, but education is key. Whether or not their high school offers vocational classes and if the student knows someone working in the skilled profession affects students’ interest in the trades.
Perceptions of the skilled trades after students were educated:
· Students who have taken skilled trades vocational classes in high school are more apt to hope to have a future career in the skilled trades. Compared to students in general (14 percent compared to 6 percent).
· An overwhelming 77 percent of students who have taken skilled trades vocational classes in high school say they would consider a career in the skilled trades, nearly twice the percentage of students in general (39 percent).
· 60 percent of students say they are more interested in working in the trades knowing that skilled trades people can work for someone else and still earn up to $90,000 or more per year.
· The majority of students are more interested in working in the trades knowing that skilled trades people can have flexible hours (55 percent), free job training is sometimes available (54 percent) and that skilled trades people can have good work benefits (54 percent).
· Those who know either a relative or friend working in the skilled trades are more likely to consider a career in the skilled trades (50 percent) than those who don’t know anyone working in the field (39 percent).
Industry leaders are working hard to help bolster the image of the industry by educating students about the benefits of a career in the skilled trades. RIDGID created the PROFuture program to help educate students about the skilled trades. “PROFuture started in response to the lack of young people entering the trades and filling jobs,” said Kilmartin. “It is designed to reinforce the decision of those joining the trades and educate those people yet to make a decision. We are going to need them.”
RIDGID is a subsidiary of Emerson, based in St. Louis, Mo. It is a global leader in bringing technology and engineering together to create innovative solutions for customers through its network power, process management, industrial automation, climate technologies, and appliance and tools businesses.