“If somebody said they were going to pay you a lot of money to do something you will hate, would you do that or would you do something you love for less?” J. McWhorter responded when asked why many millennials were avoiding trade jobs.
McWhorter himself is a millennial and works for a concrete contracting company in Texas as a salesman and estimator. While his current role is no longer one of a skilled tradesman, he does have an idea of why skilled trade companies are struggling to find millennial workers. He believes that when many millennials are offered a trade job, it usually does not matter how much they will get paid because they sadly assume they will hate it.
Thirty percent of construction companies nationwide are finding workers to fill positions, which means seventy percent are struggling, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. In addition, there has been a decrease in the ratio of skilled trade workers to other professions, and much of that seems to be related to age. The majority of millennials (and some boomers) are choosing other professions over skilled trade jobs, and while it is great that people are pursuing jobs in other fields, this imbalance is not helping our economy.
As I talked with other millennials, all with different vocations, about what attracts them to certain companies over others and why specifically they have not chosen to work in a trade job, four common themes came up: stigma, education, ignorance and comfort.
Here is a breakdown of the four issues stopping millennials from working for your company:
Problem #1: Stigma
This is listed as the first obstacle because the stigma of trade jobs is very blatantly intertwined in our society’s current emphasis on education and in the ignorance surrounding trade jobs among millennials. The stigma is that skilled trade jobs are for the working-class and not for people with degrees. While this is offensive and untrue, it very much exists and is something skilled trade companies need to work hard to overcome.
“I think the stigma is this idea that you’re doing (a trade job) because you couldn’t do something else, which is really unfortunate because those jobs take a lot of education and experience, and they are not easy,” Brooke Ledbetter, manager of Edison Coffee Company, explained.
Senior Associate Attorney Ty Sroufe acknowledged the reality of this stigma as well, but stated that “it makes less sense for someone to get a degree in a field that isn’t hiring… whenever they could do something more practical with these jobs waiting for them.”
So, even though these skilled trade jobs are open and waiting to be filled, stigma rears its ugly head and says, “Nope, it’s not for you.”
Problem #2: Education
“There’s a lot of emphasis on going to college, taking out student loans, getting your degree and doing what you gotta do,” Project Engineer Tony Hasenack said. “There’s this perception that a college degree is everything.”
And McWhorter shared the same sentiment saying, “I think when I graduated high school, there wasn’t this question of if I should go to school and get a degree in something. It was expected.”
Part of this pressure to get a degree likely came from the parents of millennials, further perpetuating the stigma that a trade job – a job that can take two years of schooling and requires the work of highly skilled men and women – was not good enough for them. There is not much that can be done to change the minds of the parents of millennials now, but there are ways to create change among the next generation.
“They need to be recruiting in middle schools and high schools just like the universities do,” James Hanson with Hanson Consolidated said. “Explain to the students what it is they do, market potential, income potential, diversity of skills… then the societal pressures will ease over time.”
Problem #3: Ignorance (from millennials and from hiring companies)
Most millennials know a trade job is physically demanding work, but outside of that, there may be a lot they are unaware of about skilled trade jobs today. Many don’t know that an electrician or a welder can make $30 an hour or more, for example.
“There are many factors,” Hanson said referring to trade job income, “however, I know tradesmen who make $60k a year and I know tradesmen who make $500k a year.”
Millennials also are not aware of your company’s culture and brand. Income is an important draw, but it is often not at the top of the list for millennials when looking for a job. From what I have heard from the millennials I spoke with, they want to care about what they are doing and be able to work alongside a great community of people more than they want a good income.
“That’s where a lot of employers are missing the point; they think they should solely be able to attract you based on how much you’re going to make,” McWhorter said, “which isn’t always our motivation as a millennial.”
While millennials do need to be made more aware of trade job incomes, companies would do better to also focus on communicating their company culture and brand in order to attract millennials.
Problem #4: Comfort
“I think there is this sense of grit and hard work that is lost on our generation because we grew up in the age of technology,” Ledbetter said.
Millennials are a few generations removed from the Great Depression and our lives are also made easier by all of the technology we have today. Many millennials have had the privilege of having fairly comfortable lives, so it would make sense that the physical demands of doing a trade job would discourage them from choosing it.
Regardless, it is important to keep in mind that if you can create a reason for the millennial to care about your job, there is a better chance you will find someone to hire.
So, to all the companies out there struggling to hire millennials, fight against the stigma by showing them what you are all about, why it matters, and more importantly, why you love it. They may then find themselves loving it, too.