My wife and I recently bought an old house, one that was built in 1887. Many of the modern updates had already been completed when we purchased the home, but there were some projects we wanted to do. The biggest of these projects–redoing a bathroom. When the house was originally built indoor plumbing was not common. The original floor plan had no dedicated space for traditional bathrooms. To accommodate indoor plumbing, bedrooms and other available space had to be converted into bathrooms. The bathroom we want to redo has lots of space, the room itself is over 300 square feet. The problem is that everything; toilet, tub, and sink are all crammed into one corner of the room making for not only an inefficient use of space, but also, in our opinion, an unsightly one.
Our decision to completely redo this space began our odyssey with the skilled trades. We began calling plumbing, electrical and even general contractors to come out and look at the space and give us a bid for the work. Four of those that came out never responded back—we never heard from them again. Of those who did respond, it was a common theme on how booked they were and how it was going to take months before they could start the project. With each of these visits I began asking a few of questions; are you short staffed? Can you find people who are willing to learn? The answers were exactly the same with every one that I asked; yes, we are shorthanded and we just can’t find people to fill the job openings. I then asked what they saw happening with the trades in the next 10 years. Each them was unsure and genuinely concerned about the future of their trade.
These conversations lead me to do a little research on the topic. Currently the average age of the skilled trade worker in this country is 55 and for every new entrant into the work force three are retiring. You don’t need a calculator to do the math to tell you that this means trouble.
Why is this happening? Likely a number of reasons, but two common ones are; the thought that you need a four-year college degree to be successful and working with your hands is viewed negatively by many in our society.
My research lead me to Mike Rowe and his foundation, mikeroweWORKSfoundation. Mike is familiar to many of us from his time hosting the television show, Dirty Jobs or his current show Somebody’s Gotta Do It. He’s also the voice-over on The Deadliest Catch as well as a number of other shows. Anyway, his foundation promotes hard work and supports the skilled trades in a variety of areas. Mike is working hard to combat both of the reasons listed above for why more young workers are not entering the trades. For example, on his foundation’s website there is a section of video clips titled, “Hot under the Blue Collar” where Mike takes on many of the myths surrounding working with your hands. One of these videos focuses on the myth that skilled trade jobs don’t pay well. In this video, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data on the starting salaries of certain four-year college degrees is compared to that of a six-month to two-year training for skilled trade.
Degree in Education $33,800
Skilled Trades $48,100
Add to these statistics the fact that 40 million Americans have student debt, up from 29 million in 2008, with an average debt of $29,000. The class of 2015 was the most indebted graduating class in history averaging $35,000 in debt.
Opportunities in the skilled trades are abundant with Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that there are currently over 3,100,000 good jobs available that no one seems to want, with 2,500,000 more to be available in the next two years.
You can hardly read the business section in any newspaper or online without reading about the skills gap happening all across our country. It appears that this gap is real and only going to get worse. So if you are unsure of where your career is headed or have influence on someone still in high school, have the conversation about the skilled trades.
There are numerous blue-collar career options available, many which come with: training in half (or less) than the time needed for a typical four-year degree, minimal to no educational debt, with pay equal to or better than many four-year degrees. Not to mention that many come with a complete benefit package as well.
Oh and if you become a plumber in my area, call me as I may still be waiting to do that bathroom project.
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