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Last week we were honored to see Kerry’s article on the skilled labor shortage picked up by our local business journal. As an employer who relies on skilled tradesmen and women, Kerry is concerned about the growing lack of qualified workers in Oregon and what that means for the future of the skilled trades.

A Brain Drain in the Skilled Trades

America is facing a shortage of skilled trade workers and the proof can be found right here in Oregon. Over the next decade, the state employment department estimates that job growth for electricians and plumbers will be up to nine times greater than the growth for any other job they measure. Making matters worse, the average skilled trade worker is approaching retirement age, so as they begin to leave the job market, fewer qualified workers will be left to meet the growing demand. As a result, in the near future it will be much harder and much more expensive to find and pay qualified tradespeople.

Unfortunately there isn’t an immediate solution to this problem. It seems an entire generation of Americans has rejected the skilled trades as a viable career option, so there isn’t an army of young workers eager to fill these new jobs. At one time, high schools directed qualified students to trade schools or apprenticeships, but more recently their focus has shifted almost exclusively to college preparation. So we face growing demand for skilled trade workers, large numbers of existing workers nearing retirement, and few young workers ready to fill these new positions. That spells trouble for the future of the skilled trades.

What Can We do to Replenish the Skilled Trades?

To start, the skilled trades need a complete rebranding. Young men and women entering the workforce and older workers looking for a change need to see the trades as a route to secure and prosperous careers. In Oregon, a plumber’s annual salary averages $73,000 and the demand for that work won’t diminish. No technology will make the toilet obsolete.

In addition, the private sector needs to step up and take a greater interest in our high schools. Employers who require skilled workers must provide more opportunities for on-the-job training and communicate those benefits in a way that both younger generations and educators understand.

What We’re Doing to Help

Today, Jack Howk℠/Rescue Rooter® is actively recruiting for several new positions, so if you or anyone you know is interested in a plumbing career, don’t hesitate to drop us a line. We invest heavily in training our employees so we can meet the growing demand and make sure our crews never stop learning. An example is the training mock up structure we’ve built in our warehouse that’s essentially the frame of a house with intact plumbing. We use the mock up to educate new hires and help our current employees sharpen existing skills.

We’re passionate about the trades here and we’ll do everything we can to convince others that the trades must be preserved. This country was built on a proud tradition of skilled labor and we can’t forget what helped make the American middle class strong. It’s not too late to address the skilled labor shortage. But if we don’t act now, we will all pay the price eventually.

Click to read Kerry’s original article, which includes more detailed figures from the Oregon Employment Department.

Kerry Frederickson

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