It’s no secret that the job market is struggling to fill roles across many industries, but especially skilled trades like construction, manufacturing, and more. While there are a variety of factors that feed into this problem, two basic issues are having a noticeable impact: a retiring workforce, and up-and-coming workers who are not pursuing careers in those industries.

Essentially, retirees are leaving roles open, but early talent is not filling those roles, leading to labor shortages.

Let’s discuss these trends and what employers in affected industries can do to develop and attract the talent they need.

The Current Workforce is Retiring

As AP News reported:

“Since 2019, the proportion of retirees in the U.S. population has risen from 18% to nearly 20%, according to research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — equivalent to about 3.5 million fewer workers. And the trend seems sure to accelerate: The percentage of workers who are 55 or older is nearly 24%, up from only about 15% two decades ago. The surge of retirements, along with a slowdown in immigration that began during the pandemic, are the primary factors behind the labor shortages that continue to bedevil some employers.”

The industries that have a high or increasing percentage of workers 55 or older are at the greatest risk of being negatively affected.

For example, the percentage of construction workers age 55 and older doubled between 2003 and 2020, to almost a quarter. According to AP, more than a third of airline mechanics are between 55 and 64 years old. Even in an industry like accounting, around 75% of workers are nearing retirement.

There’s no denying that there’s a substantial group of baby boomers in the workforce who are looking at retirement, and there’s no stopping it.

Therefore, it’s up to employers to turn their attention to early talent and find a way to engage and attract them toward their careers.

Skilled Trades Are Misunderstood by Early Talent

Shifting views on skilled trades has led to a shortage of workers entering these industries compared to when baby boomers first began working.

Over the last few decades, there has been a growing mindset that office-based careers requiring a bachelor’s degree are a safer, more stable, and more prosperous option than skilled trades. While this has reduced the number of young people pursuing these careers, these perspectives are not necessarily true.

Data shows that skilled trades are not only rising in demand, but they also show more stability and growth in an unpredictable economy and technological landscape.

Additionally, in a time where a third of people with student loans say the debt was not worth it, a career that allows workers to immediately enter the workforce without accumulating debt can be an attractive option.

Plus, what many young people fail to realize is that skilled trades tend to pay higher than many other industries, offer growth opportunities within the careers, and often come with benefits.

Four-year degrees can be great options for some, but they’re not right for everyone. For those who would thrive in a skilled trade, it’s important that they don’t write off the option due to misunderstood perspectives on these careers.

With all this in mind, the question becomes less about whether skilled trades are a viable option for young people, and more about how we can change the narrative to get these careers more on the forefront of young people’s minds as they are choosing their path.

So, how can you, as an employer, accomplish this?

How to Attract Young People to Skilled Trades

Changing mindsets and drawing young people to a career path usually requires a variety of approaches. Below, we discuss three strategies that can help attract young people not only to skilled trades, but to your company and careers specifically.*

1. Educate young people about their options within these industries

The first step to changing perspectives is education. Many of these industries and employers are working to inform young people about the opportunities within these careers. The challenge is that most individuals begin to make career decisions during high school, and those decisions are largely influenced by the people around them and the information/opportunities available at their school.

High school career fairs can be a great opportunity to get in front of students and share information about your careers. It allows you to personally interact with young people and develop interest.

Still, the effectiveness of career fairs can be limited by the time constraints, volume of students, wandering attention, and the difficulty maintaining communication after the fact. We’ve got great tips to make the most out of career fairs despite all this here. But we also encourage employers to think beyond career fairs.

We at Golden Path Solutions saw a need for students and employers to connect more meaningfully, so we developed our workforce development platform, Compass. Among other capabilities, employers can share in-depth information about their company and roles with students through Career Profiles, and Compass will even match them with the students who suit them best.

Platforms like these help to educate students on real careers at real companies that they might not have considered previously, and allows them to see detailed information that can help build interest (such as average salary expectation, what a “day in the life” looks like, education/training requirements, and more).

2. Give students opportunities to interact with your careers early on

Hands-on experience can be a huge factor in a person’s career choices. Some realize that they love one of their classes in school and decide to pursue a degree in that field. Some sign up for after-school clubs or activities and realize that they’d like to turn their talent and interest into a career.  Career & Technical Student Organizations like Future Farmers of America, Skills USA, and the Technology Student Association can also be great opportunities for students to explore a future path.  And some students help out a family member with their job and realize they want to do that too.

While Career & Technical Education classes and activities at schools can help get students exposed to skilled trades, employers can also offer career-based opportunities that allow students to interact directly with their company while building skills relevant to the field. These kinds of opportunities are called work-based learning, and it spans a variety of experiences, from internships to service learning to job shadows.

Work-based learning is flexible, meaning it can look different for each organization based on their capacity and goals. It’s a win-win for students (who gain hands-on experience, sometimes along with school credit and/or payment) and employers (who get to build interest in their company and careers, and start developing skills that their roles require). It can be a great opportunity for employers to identify and build relationships with promising future employees.

Most people’s career choices are formed over time through exposure and experiences that help them decide what they’d like to pursue. By giving students an opportunity to interact directly with real companies and careers in these industries during their high school years, many more will have the chance to realize their potential in skilled trades and pursue a career.

3. Incentivize young people to pursue these careers

Although these careers tend to both require less investment for schooling than other kinds of professions, and offer competitive pay and benefits, money can still be a barrier for some young people. With a shortage of workers, average pay has been rising across industries to attract more workers. But many employers are also turning to financial aid for training to bring more workers to their organizations.

For example, Piedmont Airlines, an east coast feeder for American Airlines, was struggling with shortages of airplane mechanics. So, they started offering full tuition scholarships for students to study and train at select schools in exchange for a two-year employment agreement post-graduation.

We at Golden Path Solutions facilitate a similar option for employers and students, called Sponsorships. An employer helps pay for a student’s tuition (either part or all) in exchange for a work agreement. We’ve seen great success with participating students and employers.

Programs like Sponsorships can be incredibly incentivizing for students who are on the fence about a career, or who may have barriers to pursuing that career. It can also provide a huge advantage for an organization that is competing for a small talent pool with other employers in their industry.