Stanley Black & Decker recently released its Makers Index, a study that revealed many of the reasons young people aren’t currently considering jobs in the trades, which has left many businesses struggling to find good workers at various skill levels. We’ll examine the study results, spin them forward and use the findings to help you both discover ways to reverse the industry-wide trend and build your own business.
In a nutshell, the study identified four key misunderstandings or gaps in the general public’s understanding of skilled-trade jobs. The public too often:
- Misunderstands the entry-level earnings and long-term stability the trades offer;
- Has the wrong idea about the skills necessary and how to acquire them;
- Lacks exposure to successful individuals already in the trades; and
- Views the trades as more appropriate and welcoming to male workers.
We’ll elaborate on these factors in a moment — it’s eye-opening stuff — but first consider how you can respond in a manner that benefits both the trades and your business at the same time: Become an ambassador for the trades.
Where to start promoting the trades
Current job trends have left more openings than workers throughout the economy, yet inflation and displacements due to the pandemic have created an environment of concern about the future among young people (and their parents). What is the right path forward? For too long, our higher education system has been treated as a panacea. We know, however, that not every student will become a doctor or lawyer — nor do they all want to. By reaching out to all these groups — young people, parents, educators — you may be able to identify your next apprentice, while also ensuring that your industry stays in good hands for future generations.
Contact local school principals — not just at high schools but middle schools and grade schools — to suggest being part of their career days or integrating your trade into the classroom, if only for 45 minutes at a time. For instance, a science teacher might welcome a demonstration of the tools and materials you use on the job. Each of those is based on scientific principles — torque, friction, pressure, tension. Imagine even just a few kids that day coming to a realization: “This is what I want to be!”
While you’re there, mention the benefits of skilled-trade work: Good starting salaries, lifetime financial security, the opportunity to build and fix things that are important to everyone — even the opportunity to be your own boss, if that’s what you like.
For too long, our higher education system has been treated as a panacea. We know, however, that not every student will become a doctor or lawyer — nor do they all want to. By reaching out to all these groups — young people, parents, educators — you may be able to identify your next apprentice, while also ensuring that your industry stays in good hands for future generations.
Now, if you’re thinking, “This is a lot of work just to impress some kids,” consider the context: A school of 500 students might have 100 adult teachers, administrators and staff. Ask the sponsoring principal and teachers to mention you and your company to these people, maybe in the next staff meeting or all-staff email. It’s a soft sell, but which plumbing contractor will these people call next: A random company from a Google search or the company that took the time to make a presentation that the students were actually talking about after class?
And be sure to post about it on any social media you use. Ask the school to comment on it. Same with the students, if they’re of social media age.
You can apply this same tactic with community colleges, libraries, Boys & Girls clubs, social service agencies that provide for young people and more. And if you, the business owner, don’t relish speaking in front of groups, there probably is a young apprentice who does and would relish the opportunity — perhaps speaking at his or her own school.
And there’s a short version of this approach. On business cards, customer receipts, your company vehicles, add a line: “Ask me about careers in plumbing.” You might get a call from a motivated young person who is a good potential apprentice, or from a parent — one who also might need a plumber someday. Even if you don’t get a call right away, the message sent is this: “I’ve made a good living with my plumbing business.” In other words, you’re a good plumber to call when the shower valve decides to give up the ghost during a visit from the in-laws.
What we’re advocating is making an effort that simultaneously promotes your industry by addressing a real problem while promoting your business in a way that could pay benefits immediately.
Help inform the public
Back to the Stanley Black & Decker study. Findings from the Makers Index will have a big influence on how you talk to young people, potential employees, teachers and parents. Stress to your audience:
Financial security. Roughly 90% of young people and parents say starting a career in fewer than the four years of a college education is appealing. But only 42% of young people expect skilled tradespeople to make $50,000 to start, and almost 20% think pay starts at less than $20,000. You can address those misconceptions without revealing your own pay structure. And add this fact: After five years at work, a tradesperson will have made $140,000 more than a college-educated worker — with no debt accrued from student loans.
They can acquire the skills. Of the 40% of young people who don’t feel trades careers are a good option, only 12% say they just don’t like manual work. The vast majority assume they’re not going to be able to learn the skills. You can counter this perception by asking your audience to participate hands-on. Have a student try to turn an old multi-turn valve from a water supply and then a smooth new 90-degree lever valve. Ask him or her to describe the effort. You’ve started to demystify manual work. Then explain what the term “apprentice” means and what you look for in one — certain aptitudes that audience members might realize they have.
That you’re available to talk. Fewer than half of young people have ever talked about skilled trades careers with a skilled tradesperson. Remind your audience of your name and your company’s name and tell them to call. And send that message elsewhere. According to the study, more than 60% of skilled workers with less than 10 years’ experience said that the media were influential in their thinking about career plans, with the internet (32%) and social media (21%) being the most influential.
That the industry is open to males and females. Teen boys, as you might have guessed, tend to be more aware than girls of careers in the trades and the potential benefits. For example, 69% of boys and 52% of girls agree that the trades are a “good option.” Still, the fact that more than half of girls have this view is a promising sign. Interestingly, it’s the parents who are more divided: Dads are more than twice as likely as moms to see the trades as a good option. So wherever you spread the message, speak to both sexes and remember that young women might be more receptive to your career message than you would have expected.
We’ve covered the key points of Stanley Black & Decker’s Makers Index — the first it has conducted — and suggested how you can integrate its findings into messaging that can help your industry and your own business. Now get out there and spread the good news yourself.