Building the Next Generation of Skilled Trade Professionals

To recruit younger workers, contractors must provide guidance on pursuing a career in the trades.
By Matthew Winn
May 10, 2022

Society is currently experiencing “The Great Resignation,” and it only continues to be exasperated by the pandemic. Yet, for many industries, building safety especially, this is not a new phenomenon. In fact, for the skilled trades like construction, the shortage of incoming talent has long been a challenge.

This has led to a significant impact on operations—raising costs and concerns about the future. The industry is further challenged by a significant portion of its workforce aging out. According to a report by Zippia, with a median age of 43, the skilled labor workforce is roughly 10% older than the general population, creating an ever-widening gap in the number of workers needed.

In fact, the labor shortage is reaching a potentially critical level as skilled tradespeople retire at a five to one ratio to new labor entering the field, with the most impacted fields being plumbers, construction workers and electricians.

However, this presents ample opportunity for those looking to break into the profession, especially among the younger generation. Therefore, the question becomes how skilled trades can attract and retain talent.

Attracting New Talent to The Building Industry Starts with Education and Awareness

The trade industry currently has a unique opportunity to attract up-and-coming talent. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of college has more than doubled in the 21st century, with an annual growth rate of 6.8%. Subsequently, college and university graduates are finishing with greater amounts of student loan debt, which is pushing younger generations to explore different avenues that both appeal to their interests and are more affordable.

Along with job security, skilled trades careers come with high job satisfaction, and high starting salaries. A study by Agni, confirmed that 83% of respondents felt high satisfaction from their career in a skilled trade.

Career paths in the skilled trades include, but are not limited to:

  • Plumbers
  • Electricians
  • HVAC technicians
  • Carpenters
  • Brick masons

Career paths in the building safety industry include, but are not limited to:

  • Building officials
  • Code enforcement officers
  • Fire marshals
  • Plumping inspectors
  • Mechanical examiners
  • Permit inspectors

To truly capitalize on this shift, organizations across the sector must be ready to advocate, educate and provide resources for students who want to explore their career options.

Luckily, for those looking to enter the building safety industry, there are several routes available many of which are aided by organizations providing building professionals with the resources and opportunities needed to succeed. This step-by-step guide that was developed by the International Code Council, offers an insightful and informative overview of the industry for young adults looking to start from the bottom and work their way up in the sector by providing three crucial steps:

  1. Start the journey by identifying different areas of the profession that spark a personal interest.
  2. Conduct additional research into the type of construction that is predominant in their area,
  3. Contact their local building department to help them narrow down the required prerequisites and certifications needed for their desired job before finding programs that fit specific career paths.

In additional to a guideline, the Code Council has established programs to help educate the future generations of the building safety community.
Safety 2.0, a program which has become a pillar for the organization, is designed to provide those who are early in their careers with resources and guidance on how to enter the building safety industry. Safety 2.0 offers a technical training program, which provides technical schools and instructors with the tools needed to teach students about the building safety industry. The program features resources on the six major disciplines included in certification exams: plumbing, HVAC (mechanical), electrical, building, masonry and energy. This structure enables educators to integrate one or more disciplines of the program into their current construction trade curricula to better prepare students for careers in the construction field.

Retaining Construction Talent Requires Purpose

Gen Z and millennials want to work with a company that stands for a purpose beyond simply making a profit. They want their work to make a positive societal or environmental impact. A career in the skilled trades, especially building safety, provides this as these professions ensure that our communities continue to be structurally safe, resilient, sustainable and accessible to all.

Well-trained, motivated building safety professionals are key to creating and maintaining a successful built environment. Code officials consistently ensure that the buildings in their communities are safe, especially in disaster-prone areas that see frequent tornados and wildfires or in areas that are economically disadvantaged.

As the industry looks toward the younger generation to fill the ranks, organizations must step up to provide resources, guidance and assistance to help students understand the benefits of pursuing a career in the skilled trades. The building safety industry is responsible for safeguarding our communities, and this important work cannot be done without the skilled men and women of the construction industry.

by Matthew Winn

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