Skilled trade workers are in higher demand than ever in today’s world. The COVID-19 pandemic left no industry untouched in terms of challenges, and in the home services space specifically, we all had to adjust to ensure we could keep delivering our essential expertise despite so much uncertainty. Our time in quarantine proved that going without a plumber when your home’s toilet breaks unexpectedly or going without heat or air conditioning with the whole family back together under one roof was simply not an option. The value of skilled trades workers became increasingly apparent to those outside our industries, which in turn, shed light on how detrimental a shortage of home service professionals can be to the overall stability of our society.

The skills of plumbers, electricians, painters and other trade professionals add a great deal of value to individuals and businesses across the world. Our society, both today and tomorrow, is dependent upon the services tradespeople offer, which is why I am, and always will be, such an advocate for the value of vocational education.

Shortage of skilled workers

As desirable and essential as trade professionals are in today’s society, we know that currently, many are retiring at a faster rate than new generations of skilled workers can be trained and hired. For example, about 7,000 new electricians enter the field each year, while another 10,000 simultaneously retire. In the plumbing sector specifically, there’s a 55% shortage of skilled individuals, which is amplified by the projected annual 4% growth rate for the profession over the next several years.

A major solution to combat these shortages is to inspire the next generation of workers to pursue careers in the trades.

If we can put more of this next generation on the path of attending trade school and obtaining certification, then the workforce we’ll have available to us for years to come will possess enhanced competency as skilled workers.

The next generation

Despite the narrative that society has crafted in recent decades, the pursuit of a four-year college degree may not be the best route for every current high school student to take — and it is our responsibility as trades professionals to show them this is not a bad thing. Teachers, guidance counselors, school board members, and especially we as tradespeople, must fight to encourage students to find career paths that match their skill sets and goals. Once a student understands the full range of opportunities available to them upon graduating high school, their world opens up and their possibilities for finding a meaningful career they feel that they can excel in are endless.

Generation Z is driven by instant results, which is something they will obtain in a career within the trades. Tangible work translates to tangible results that will, in turn, provide these young professionals with the satisfaction of a job well done — something they often value. The first step in inspiring students to enter a career in the trades starts with guiding them to the proper training that trade school and hands-on experiences can offer. What better way to kickstart that process than by meeting the students where they are in the form of exhibiting at local career fairs or offering internship and part-time employment opportunities to the youth of our communities? By focusing on the communities we serve, we can take a hands-on approach to grow our overall workforce while simultaneously putting our neighbors on paths to success that they may not have ever realized existed without our advocacy.

Training and certification

If we can put more of this next generation on the path of attending trade school and obtaining certification, then the workforce we’ll have available to us for years to come will possess enhanced competency as skilled workers. They should be comfortable that they have a good base of knowledge for their trade to also be identified as more employable. Trade school provides practical education, so students develop specific industry skills that allow them to jump right into their professions and get started. Not to mention, a large selling point is that this form of schooling is cheaper than a traditional college education and often provides smaller classroom settings, with more one-on-one opportunities to learn. Training tomorrow’s home service professionals through vocational education is key to meeting the ever-increasing demand and ensuring the ongoing stability and security of our homes and businesses.

Not only employment but ownership opportunities as well

Of course, we cannot ignore that barriers to entry still exist in the home services field. While some trades don’t typically require state-mandated certifications, credentials for hard licensure trades such as plumbing, electrical or HVAC work are more onerous. For example, the four-year commitment generally required to qualify to obtain a plumbing license varies from one state to the next and is a much longer ordeal than what it takes to become a licensed real estate agent or pest control applicator. Then there are those trades where the industry itself has created its own education and certification platform, with the restoration and remediation industry being one such example.

Fortunately, aligning with the right trades business can ease the path to receiving vocational training through franchise system-sponsored or administered training resources. Regardless of industry, local or state requirements, Neighborly always encourages franchise owners and employees to become as knowledgeable as possible about their work. Solid business acumen and customer service skills are always paramount to success. We work with franchise owners to increase their business skills, and either train or secure access to qualified technicians. We also administer the industry certification exams where applicable. All this is to say that a career in the trades doesn’t necessarily require providing hands-on service at all times. We need to remind younger generations of the business ownership and investment opportunities available in our field as well.

The future of the trades

Research in addition to our personal experiences proves the home service industry has a bright future ahead. Jobs in the trades — from plumbing to HVAC to electrical work — simply can’t be innovated away. Our world is dependent upon builders, technicians and craftsmen, so the demand for skilled professionals will not dwindle. Vocational education will always be so very important to our global society. The employment and ownership opportunities in this space are promising today and for the foreseeable future, and we should continue to advocate for more students to pursue this path for the sake of our industry and the economy as a whole.

Mike Bidwell is president and CEO of Neighborly, a home services franchisor of 29 brands and more than 4,800 franchises collectively serving more than 10 million customers in nine countries, focused on repairing, maintaining and enhancing homes and businesses.