The Tragic State of the Trades

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In an economy that leaves millions unemployed, a few industries starve for quality, skilled workers more than others. Leading the pack of industries desperate for workers – the trades. According to ManPower Group, the hardest workforce industry to fill positions for is the skilled trade industry. It’s somewhat shocking, considering the media hype over high unemployment rates.

Why are the trades lacking quality workers?

> Educational Focus Shift – Shifting focus from vocational and trade schools, high schools now encourage students toward 4-5 year college plans. Enrollment in vocational courses dropped more than 8% from 1982 to 1998. But other areas, like general coursework and college prep programs, increased.

> The Allure of “College Life” – Colleges, as businesses, spend millions and millions in marketing dollars to attract students to their prestigious institutions. They paint a picture of young people in control of their destinies while enjoying meal plans, dorm life and Frisbee in the park. Youʼre smart, colleges! Some individuals go to college to “figure out” what they want to do, wasting valuable years of their youth without direction and accumulating heaps of debt without any useful skills after they graduate. The trades, meanwhile, empower individuals to focus their energies on a specific talent or interest and make money in that field while they do so.

> Qualifications – Licensed tradespeople require years of training and passable test scores. While most tradespeople balk at the idea of conventional schooling, they are expected to perform to specific industry standards. The problem – most tradespeople are good with their hands and lack exceptional math, reading and problem solving skills.

How do we fix the problem?

> The most important thing is to acknowledge there is a problem. The average age of a plumber in the Texas is 58!
 At this rate, Texas will lose a great deal of its workforce to retirement in the next five to seven years! According to, in 2012, 53% of skilled workers were age 45 or older. This is a national problem. Who will service our toilets, fix our sinks and clear our septic tanks?

> Attract Young People to the Trades – Local and national unions and trade organizations link apprentices with business owners and provide continuing education for existing plumbers. Many are just unaware of these programs. These unions and organizations need to take a hint from colleges and create a marketing campaign geared towards young people who may not feel college is the right choice for them. Present options!

Why choose a life in the trades?

> Money – Unlike a conventional, four-year college plan where you finish exhausted from working a side job and recovering from mountains of debt, a trade allows apprentices to get paid in their trade while they work. Licensed and experienced tradespeople can make exceptional money, comparable if not exceeding what a doctor or lawyer might make in an annum.

> Benefits – Most employers attract quality employees with amazing benefits packages that include 401K, medical/dental insurance coverage and paid training.

> Job Security – Despite economic hardships, people seldom sacrifice their basic needs, such as water and proper sewage. As long as the human body continues to do what it has done for eons, plumbers will not be going out of business as an industry ever.

> Advancement Opportunities – Trades allow motivated and intelligent individuals the ability to run their own trade business as a licensed contractor. If youʼre interested in being your own boss, examine a career in the trades. 
Personally, I represent Mr. Plumber / Mr. AC at local San Antonio elementary schools. My presentation engages children and demonstrates what an important role plumbing plays in their everyday life. We review basic tools, materials, how to turn off their emergency shut off valves and how to clean their faucet aerators for their families. Hopefully, these pursuits and many more of a similar nature will propel people on the national level to take more of an interest in this national problem.

Allie Perez is director of operations, Mr. Plumber / Mr. AC, San Antonio ( Her interesting viewpoints on the trades can be found on her blog at


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