Transformational Shift in National Priorities Needed to Attract and Educate Skilled Tradespeople
Feb. 23, 2017
By Michael Copp, Executive Vice President
There exists a national catastrophe that requires nothing short of a cultural pivot: something akin to Theodore Roosevelt’s “Square Deal” or Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” in which a national crisis required a transformational shift in national priorities to protect the health and safety of the American people. As was true in 1910 and in 1933, we now need a national movement to attract and educate enough skilled tradespeople to fix the declining economic health of the construction trades industry and crumbling infrastructure.
While the narrative is slowly changing from “College Readiness” to “Career Readiness,” we have to overcome what has been a cultural norm: the importance of receiving a college degree in order to have a successful career.
In fact, according to the Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE), 85 percent of the jobs in America do not require a college degree but require post-high school training. Tangentially, a Brookings Institution study found that the “volume and frequency of student loans increased significantly” from 2002 to 2012, with loans spiking 77 percent.
Anthony Carnevale, a director and research professor for Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, notes that “we have a debate raging in this country right now over whether universities are supposed to teach for enlightenment or prepare students for the job market. You still see presidents at some very prestigious universities arguing for the former, not the latter.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the construction industry is projected to add 790,400 jobs by 2024. The U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL) projects that the plumbing, heating and cooling industry, which I represent, will need 21 percent more plumbing and HVAC technicians, respectively, by 2022, and that does not take into account replacing retiring baby boomers!
That represents 138,000 jobs available over the next six years. This number expands even more when you consider the related project management, design and administrative jobs that will become available at plumbing and HVAC companies, as well as the additional workers needed by others involved in the industry, like the manufacturers who produce the products and the engineers who design the products and infrastructure systems that are sorely in need of repair.
Much of these skills gap realities are hard to reconcile given the dichotomy between the difficulty for some college graduates to find jobs they want and climbing tuition rates, and the high number of available skilled-trade jobs that go unfilled and the desperate need to fix a decaying infrastructure that threatens the health and safety of our citizens.
In an interview with TheBlaze TV’s Andrew Wilkow, television personality Mike Rowe expressed: “The jobs right now that we have available, people don’t seem to want — and it makes no sense because we’re lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist.”
We need a movement: a cultural shift in which parents, guidance counselors and others do not view vocational skilled-trades education/apprenticeships as a second option to going to college. With the right policy reforms and by resetting national priorities, skilled-trade education can lead to additional education and career advancement.
In September 2016, the DOL reported that “Today, 91 percent of apprentices remain employed after completing their programs, with average annual starting wages above $50,000. The return on investment for employers is substantial, as studies indicate that for every dollar spent on apprenticeship, employers receive average of $1.47 return in increased productivity.”
We need to get back to a time when “youth in olden days achieved the status of craft workers, they became important members of society,” as described online by the Washington State Dept. of Labor & Industries. We need to re-establish vocational education that was dismantled in much of the country. We need to achieve greater diversity within the skilled-trades industries to include more women, minorities and at-risk youths – all seeking that same level of importance and respect applied to their contribution to society.
We must overcome stereotypes and understand that, as Mike Rowe told CONTRACTOR magazine, “Our civilization is held together by people who keep the lights on, pipe connected, and who keep it warm in the winter and cold in the summer. Our relationship with these people is critical, and that part of our workforce is fundamental to society.”
For more information about a career in the p-h-c industry visit: www.phccareers.com