Tapping New Sources of Skilled Labor

The skilled labor shortage sweeping across the industry is no secret. According to the Alabama Construction Recruitment Institute (ACRI), for every new trade worker, three or four are retiring.

On top of that, the average age of a construction tradesman is 47 years old, and a third of all skilled tradesmen are over the age of 50. To say that the industry is desperate for some new blood is an understatement.

Recruiting the younger generation can be a PR challenge. Often inaccurate stereotypes must be shattered to show our youth that a skilled labor career comes with a salary and benefits that are on par with—and often better than—jobs requiring a college degree (and the burden of student debt).

Across the nation, manufacturers, organizations, and government agencies are starting to come up with inspiring new strategies to overcome the skilled labor shortage.

Reaching Young Minds

Who better to entice our youth to consider a career in the skilled trades than those in the industry? In Wisconsin, where the skills shortage has increased from 29% (in 2011) to 80% (in 2017), a group of manufacturers teamed up to create the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance.

Now more than a decade old, the Alliance works with educators, chambers of commerce, state organizations and workforce development programs to promote manufacturing. The Alliance’s efforts include a Manufacturing All-Stars recognition program, Internship Draft Day program and Get Real Math! videos, which teach students how math skills are used in the real world at a manufacturing company.

This year, the Alliance was presented with the Talent Management Leadership High Achiever Award from Frost & Sullivan’s Manufacturing Leadership Council. “This is a huge validation of what the Alliance has accomplished,” said Bay Area Workforce Development Board Executive Director James Golembeski. “We’re doing something in this region hardly anyone else is doing.”

It’s the Law

In Colorado, introducing kids to the skilled trades is now the law. A law went into effect this year that requires public schools to inform high school students about post-secondary paths that don’t involve college. According to the mandate (House Bill 1041), counselors must specifically tell students about jobs in skilled labor—along with the military.

Go Build Alabama


In Go Build Alabama, the ACRI has developed one of the most effective models we have seen for addressing the critical issue of worker shortage in the construction industry.”

Here in our neck of the woods, Go Build Alabama has been educating young people on the value of learning a trade since 2010. Launched by the ACRI, the campaign aims to clear up common misconceptions about the industry and inspire the younger generation to consider a career in the skilled trades.

“Our campaign provides students with information about a viable career option in the construction industry,” says Jason Phelps, executive director of the ACRI. “We see the need for a training pipeline to fill the future needs of our industry and are working ahead to get students into training in Alabama.”

Since the campaign’s launch, career tech course enrollments have increased 24% per year. In addition, 75% of apprenticeship programs have seen a substantial increase in applications. Last year, Go Build Alabama received the “Spirit of the ECC” award from the Engineering and Construction Contracting Association.

Untapped Resource: Military Veterans

Beyond our youth, companies are starting to turn to a new source of talent to fill their workforce gaps: military veterans. Around 200,000 military personnel transition into the civilian workforce every year. By 2019, the population of veterans is projected to increase 46% from 2014 levels.

Not only are military veterans plentiful, they’re well suited for skilled labor work. Accustom to teamwork and instilled with a strong sense of duty, vets are also disciplined, highly organized and excellent problem solvers.

Many veterans were also trained in highly specialized skills in the military that translate to the construction industry. These invaluable skills cover everything from computers and technology to tools and heavy equipment.

What You Can Do

So what can you do to address the skilled labor shortage? Open your doors, for one thing. Connect with educators and offer plant tours, send speakers to schools and sponsor career days to introduce the younger generation to our industry.

You can also team up with technical colleges and universities to help train and educate students. Think of it this way: You’re helping lay the groundwork for a pipeline of skilled talent that you’ll benefit from directly.

It’s also a great idea to team up with other manufacturers. As the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance discovered, it’s easier to make the changes you want to see when you pool your resources and combine forces.

Finally, don’t overlook untapped sources of talent like military veterans and women. There are plenty of well-qualified individuals out there who are looking to change careers, avoid college debt or pursue a career path with ample opportunities for advancement.

Connect with them early, and you’ll help support a fresh new wave of skilled labor that can fill in the gaps left by the industry’s ample retirees.