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The Skilled Trades: A Smart Choice for a Great Career

High-tech jobs aren’t the only careers with booming demand. In Massachusetts and across the country, employers are facing a critical shortage of workers in the skilled trades. And as the construction industry gears up for an impending construction boom, companies are feeling the pinch.

Is there really a skilled labor shortage?

There are nearly 200,000 unfilled construction jobs across the country, with thousands of jobs being added every month. And if you ask employers, they can’t find workers to fill them. With the unemployment rate for the construction industry at a low 4.5 percent, it’s clear that there just aren’t enough skilled laborers available. As the National Association of Home Builders reports, that’s leading many employers to turn to immigrant labor to fill open positions. As of 2014, foreign-born workers accounted for almost 23 percent of laborers in the home-building sector.


The shortage isn’t limited to the construction industry. Throughout Massachusetts, businesses are finding themselves with dozens of open entry-level positions and no one with the skills to fill them. Business owners cite a graying workforce with few young workers to replace those who retire, and are turning to on-the-job training programs to close the gap.


Why is there a shortage of skilled labor?

According to reporting from CBS News, a 2017 survey revealed that only three percent of young people are interested in the construction trade for a career. Why are so few people pursuing a career that offers on-the-job training, comfortable pay, and available jobs? The reasons behind the current skilled labor shortage are diverse, but these are some of the major factors at play:

  • Poor employment in the construction and manufacturing industries following the economic downturn of the Great Recession, which came with the loss of 3 million jobs in construction alone.
  • Stigma toward blue collar workers as less intelligent or capable than workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Emphasis on four-year degrees as the most secure and profitable career path for high school graduates.
  • Reduced vocational education in high school curricula.


What are the benefits of a career in the skilled trades?

Skilled jobs aren’t just available, they’re also opportunities to earn a real living. Unlike a four-year college education, which comes with debt load and little career-oriented training, a vocational education is affordable, short, and comes with a clear path forward. Furthermore, jobs in the trades offer pay comparable to careers that require a four-year degree, with many mid-level jobs offering $50,000 or more with benefits.


The trades offer less tangible benefits as well. Workers don’t have to take work stress home with them or sit in a windowless office all day, there are opportunities for self-employment, and with so many companies hiring, workers have the flexibility to find an employer that treats them right.


How can workers enter the skilled trades?

Many skilled trades workers get their start at a technical school or community college, where they earn either a certificate or an associate’s degree in their trade of choice. While formal education isn’t always required, it can give applicants a leg up over the competition when it comes to applying for apprenticeships. In areas of especially high demand, candidates may be able to enter apprenticeships with only a high school diploma.


The apprenticeship is the most critical component of a trades education. In an apprenticeship, workers get the opportunity to earn wages while learning through on-the-job training. The length of apprenticeships varies, but most span two to five years.


After the apprenticeship, workers are eligible to become licensed and start working professionally in their trade. However, there are always opportunities to keep learning and move up in the field, often with sizable pay increases.


With ample job openings, on-the-job training, and competitive pay, there’s a lot of opportunity to be found in the skilled trades. Unfortunately, that opportunity often goes overlooked by today’s youth. But if you want a good job with good pay that you can find right here in the SouthCoast area, it’s time to give the skilled trades a closer look.


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