Welcome to another edition of “They Said It,” where we discuss the issue of the skilled labor shortage. There is no doubt that a major topic of concern, and discussion, for the trades is the lack of skilled labor entering the workforce. We asked some industry experts their thoughts on the issue, and here is what they said:
There has been a lot of talk about an upcoming shortage of skilled labor in the trades. What can be done to address the issue?
Cannistraro is proud of the strong, lasting relationships it maintains with the local labor organizations. Our leaders are very engaged in the various trade organizations and labor community, and work closely to share insight into the needs of our company and its customers. We believe it’s important to provide plenty of training and opportunity to potential employees of all skills and backgrounds, and do so in a variety of ways including apprenticeship programs, career fairs, tours/demonstrations for local vocational schools and other unique methods such as our ongoing affiliation with The Plumbing Museum.
Businesses need to constantly follow the trends of the nation and make things relatable to future generations. This information can help you understand your workforce and create a corporate culture that appeals to the younger workforce. As a fifth-generation-family-run company for 126 years, we also pride ourselves in being rich in history.
We constantly look at what past leaders have done and take the best from that, but we also keep a close watch on what is happening today. For instance, in the late 50s, E.M. Duggan was the first mechanical trade company in New England to create a prefab shop. In recent years we expanded on that and created two state of the art prefab shops to make it easier for employees to do their jobs in a safe and comfortable environment.
Implementing the latest technologies into the business is also key; it keeps us on top of the game, but it also speaks to the younger generation of employees, which helps us recruit and maintain them as part of the Duggan family.
You’ve been hearing about the labor shortage for a few years now and it is of great concern to all facets of our industry. We need to continue to place value on the trades at a young age in our schools, and teach children and teenagers that the trades offer great career options. This is the cultural side of this challenge as in recent decades, politicians and educators have been positioning college degrees as the best path to career success while relegating the trades to a plan b status. We can start to reverse this line of thinking through the work of various trade organizations and recent regulations like the Apprenticeship and Jobs Training Act of 2017. This regulation, introduced in June of last year, is a great start, but more regulatory support is needed to enhance the visibility and viability of the trades.
Like a lot of building product suppliers, we are trying to make our products easier and faster to install. Training is a major component of this effort. We are also devoting a lot of attention to finding ways to attract more workers to the construction industry. Things like working with vocational schools and STEM programs are examples of initiatives for developing skilled construction trades. Also, the construction trades have long been male-dominated, so we need to focus on attracting more women to our industry — otherwise we are forgoing the opportunity to access more than 50% of the potential workforce.
This has been an issue facing this industry for many years and unfortunately I do not see a clear path to it getting better any time soon. This shortage is further complicated by the technical advances in the products being offered to the industry and the need for advanced skills in controls, programming, and systems integration.
The broadening skills gap is due to several factors but the one we can and must address immediately is the negative perception of plumbing and HVAC jobs. We have a societal focus on four-year degree programs as opposed to technical education. which has made it difficult for contractors to attract skilled talent. We work closely with our trade associations, including AHRI and HI, to fight this battle to attract new talent to our industry. And once workers are engaged, Taco’s relentless focus on training helps contracting companies increase the skill of their employees. It’s just part of our ongoing commitment to support their personal and business success.
The skilled labor shortage is already affecting the country. This is evident in how long new construction wait times are; there are just not enough people to do the trade jobs. It would behoove the country to look at programs that other countries have that encourage building a skilled labor work force.
Undoubtedly, addressing the workforce shortage is our number one focus. There is not a single company in the p-h-c industry that is not facing a workforce shortage crisis. We are an aging industry and we need to get the young people interested in our industry. It is a very technical industry, which appeals to the young people. It also is a very diverse industry, meaning that there are lots of facets to this industry—from being field personnel, to estimating, to project management, to running/owning a business. It is typically a very varied industry…day to day the jobs differ so each day is a new experience … this also appeals to young people. It is an industry full of workdays that don’t get boring.
Legislatively, we need to continue to attempt to get the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act reauthorized, and promote increasing the funding of this very valuable act as this is where the money comes from that keeps apprenticeship schools in place. Apprenticeship is an additional avenue of education, not better and not worse than college … just less costly and we need to continually make legislators aware of this path for education.
We are pushing educators to try to understand that the trades classes need to be back in the high schools so that our young people have that additional avenue of education. We are asking school boards across the country to reinstitute these classes as the adage “you must go to college to make something of yourself” is not applicable anymore. This industry is full of jobs that are rewarding both emotionally and particularly financially.
And, we need to stay engaged, at all levels (local state and national) in advocacy. We not only advocate for good laws but for good regulations. PHCC is working on several committees to help the federal legislators/regulators understand how these regulations affect our businesses. It is imperative for them to understand how much small businesses “run” this country. By small businesses I mean companies with 20 or fewer employees. I read a statistic that 89.4% of the companies in this country fall into that category. We need to make sure that legislators understand that small business is the backbone of this country. When they understand that, and start designing laws and regulations that help those types of companies, then our country will be much better off.
In order to be successful in these efforts, we must be flexible and powerful and band together in numbers. PHCC has joined any number of coalitions of similar industries with the same workforce shortage issues. Together, there is power in numbers and the more we can all explain how our workforce shortage affects the country, the better off we are in helping to build a better workforce.