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Oh, what an exhilarating time to be a part of the skilled trades industry! Everywhere I look, I see not just burgeoning opportunities but also a new generation of eager, passionate individuals ready to dive into the world of trades. However, as with any changing of the guard, it’s essential that we help pave a path that allows these young talents to emerge as the leaders of tomorrow. And guess what? Unlike a lot of people out there, I'm brimming with optimism and ideas on how we can make that happen. So, grab your favorite beverage, sit back and let’s dive in!

1. Embrace their unique perspective

First and foremost, it's crucial to understand that this new wave of professionals, largely comprised of Millennials and Gen Z, have a different worldview. And trust me, it's a good thing! They come with fresh eyes, innovative solutions and an intrinsic understanding of the digital realm. It’s like getting a software update in the world of trades. Embrace their perspective and learn from it. Their insights might surprise you. Remember that different is just different. It doesn’t have to be labeled better or worse. Many of us who were raised in the trades “old school” need to put away our Trapper Keepers, grab an iPad, and get on the flying bus of the future!

2. Intensify mentorship

I've always believed that the best leaders are often the best students first. Remember the old-timers who shared tales of their experiences, the little tricks of the trade and those invaluable life lessons? It's time for us to be those old-timers. By pairing experienced professionals with the newer team, we can foster an environment where wisdom is shared, bonds are formed and the legacy is continued. Rather than coming from a place of ego or “I walked uphill both ways in the snow” perspective, simply share your invaluable knowledge and expertise.

3. Prioritize continuous learning

The skilled trades industry is evolving faster than ever. With advancements in technology and methodologies, it's crucial for our emerging leaders to always be at the forefront of knowledge. Workshops, courses, seminars, podcasts, online learning — whatever form it takes, make learning an ongoing journey. It’s like sharpening the tools in your toolbox; a sharp mind is just as crucial as a sharp saw. As the CEO of an industry-leading training and coaching best practices group, I can assure you that all the information you and your team need is accessible anytime from anywhere.

4. Hand them the reins (occasionally)

I’m sure you've heard the saying, “Experience is the best teacher.” Well, it truly is. Give these budding leaders opportunities to manage, to lead, to make decisions. Yes, they might face challenges, even make mistakes, but that's part of the growth process. It’s like learning to ride a bike; you've got to take off the training wheels at some point. I’ve done hundreds of ride-alongs from almost every state in the union, to every market in Sydney, Australia, and I can tell you that allowing a technician to miss a sale as a teaching opportunity is one of the hardest things I learned how to do. To this day, we still get the best results because we allow on-the-spot learning to be experienced, not just taught as concept.

5. Cultivate a feedback-friendly environment

Constructive feedback is like gold. In my last book, “Blue Collar Success Laws,” candid communication is Law #5. You must be willing to both deliver and listen to candid and direct feedback. Encourage an atmosphere where feedback is given and received with an open mind. Monthly reviews, feedback sessions or just a coffee chat can shed light on areas of improvement. Remember, it’s all about growth, one step at a time.

6. Celebrate diversity

Here’s the deal: diverse teams are magic. Different backgrounds, cultures, experiences — they all bring a unique flavor to the table. By embracing diversity, we’re not just building a more inclusive industry but also one that's richer in ideas and solutions. Remember this across the board and this also goes for age. I’ve received massive business-improving ideas from the newest apprentices or brand-new installers over my career.

7. Lead by example

This one’s a classic, but it can't be emphasized enough. Our actions, values, and work ethic — the younger generation is watching and taking it all in, good or bad. Want them to value punctuality? Be punctual. Want them to prioritize safety? Make sure you’re always wearing that safety gear. Simple, but incredibly impactful. Don’t mistake leading by example with the need or desire to appear perfect. I’m a huge fan of being authentic and vulnerable in leadership. When you are yourself, simply doing the best you can, you automatically create the opportunity for those around you do the same thing. How do you want people to show up and act in your business? Be more of that!

8. Encourage networking

Ah, the power of connections! Encourage your team to attend tradeshows, conferences and industry networking events. The more people they meet, the broader their understanding of the industry becomes. And who knows, they might even meet a future mentor at one of these events! As an industry professional trainer for years, I did all the training at my own plumbing company. When I started sending people outside to other trainers, they got to see that I wasn’t just the crazy parent back home; they got new context for themselves based on meeting and networking with others.

9. Invest in leadership training

While hands-on experience is invaluable, formal leadership training can offer structured insights into effective leadership. Invest in your young team that have a willingness for leadership courses. It's an investment that will undoubtedly yield high returns.

10. Foster a Collaborative Environment

As it’s been said, teamwork makes the dream work. Encourage collaboration, group brainstorming sessions and team projects. A cohesive team, where everyone’s strengths are recognized and utilized, is where true leaders shine.

Wrapping up, I’m genuinely excited about the future of the skilled trades industry. With the right nurturing, guidance and resources, I have no doubt that the next generation will take the industry to new heights. And while we’re guiding them, we might just learn a thing or two ourselves. Isn’t that the beauty of growth?

Keep shining, keep leading and keep inspiring. The future looks bright, and I’m here for it!