Skilled Trade Gap

By Robert Robillard on Contractor Advice

Trade Skills Gap – Help Wanted

We’re Hiring!  Everyone I speak to these days has the same story; “Good help is hard, no impossible, to find.” We’ve all heard of the “Skilled trade gap,”

Were now two or three generations into a world where American high schools have shifted their focus to preparing students for four-year colleges rather than vocational school.

Right now, 53% of skilled trades workers are over the age of 45. The trades has become an older profession, as older baby boomers and some Gen X’ers near retirement age.

A Paradigm Shift is Needed

We need to direct and mentor young people toward the trades – what can we be doing better?  For one thing we need to treat the trades as a career rather than a job.

Looking For Help

So what happens when you put an ad in Craig’s list for a carpenter now? You get a bunch of older guys not happy in their current job. While most of these guys have skills – they come with baggage. The only REAL way is to poach someone from someone else, and we all know that a sucky thing to do.

There’s Gotta be a Better Way?

Recently I volunteered to be on the Advisory Board at my local trade school with the intent on helping to guide and maybe help lead the curriculum toward graduating better skilled graduates.

What about Part-Timers?

Once on the Advisory Board, I Iearned about, and signed up for a “Co-Op” student. Co-Op, or Cooperative education is a structured method of combining classroom-based education with practical work experience. A co-op student spends alternating weeks in the classroom and field. They receive academic credit for structured job experience.

Assuming that you don’t get the number-nine batter of the program, my thought process was to try to coach, mentor and train-up a high school aged student interested in the trades. The key is to get them to stay long enough to become a viable member of the team.

Co-Op Students – What Do Part Timers Offer?

By the time a carpentry trade student is ready for Co-Op, they have their OSHA10 and an excellent understanding of measuring and tool use. Where they lack is structural knowledge, nomenclature, work efficiency, and most-importantly, how to repair or build.

You see, in the classroom setting not everyone gets to “DO,” some have to watch. Then of course there’s the one’s that always watch. You don’t want them!

Much of a trade education is by nature “exposure,” not long term repetition or skill building. The rest is small in shop projects, mini-builds, and older students will travel to a jobsite to work on a project with their shop-teachers oversight.

The reality is that they really don’t know much, and have little experience. So what am I looking for?  Passion!  I want a kid who is passionate on learning a craft, not a job!  Someone who wants to build, fix stuff, and literally work with their hands.

Focus on Passion

At the end of the day I realized that I was focusing too much on the skills needed. I can teach skills, but I sure as hell can’t teach passion.

Find the passionate kid and teach them!  Tell them to leave the cellphone in the truck, treat and pay them well and then move out of the way!

The Skilled Trade Gap – What Can We Do?

The Carpenter Apprentice – The PATH to Success

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About the author

Robert Robillard

Robert Robillard

Carpenter / Remodeler / Editor / Writer / Video Talent

Robert Robillard is a remodeler, general contractor, and principal of a carpentry and renovation business located in Concord, Massachusetts. He also writes the "Ask the Carpenter" advice column in the Boston Globe, and serves as the Editor of Tool Box Buzz and founding editor of A Concord Carpenter . Rob is in charge of our Tool and Product Review - Tool and Product Review - Video Channel, , where we post all of our tool reviews and video tutorials. Rob enjoys using his knowledge and experience to help and educate building professionals as well as DIYers on best practices in the remodeling industry. The Concord Carpenter's motto: "Well done is better than well said!" : Read more about Rob <a href=""

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