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Why Millennials Are Not Interested in Trade Jobs

Millennials; the generational cohort born between 1980–2000. Many of these 26 to 41-year-olds avoid traditional trade jobs. But why is that? What is the Millennial mindset?

Generation Y has a misleading perception of manual labor, including apprenticeship programs and high-paying skilled trades jobs. They came into a rapidly changing world with a fresh new attitude and outlook on life. Thus, their employment and career expectations differ from the Baby Boomers before them.

You will better understand the Millennial or Gen Y mindset by the end of this piece. We look at ways to attract more of them into skilled trades. This article also offers tips on retaining the younger quality employees you already have. That last point matters as Millennials—on average—only spend 2 years and 9 months in any job [1].

Deloitte Millennial Survey, 2018:  Businesses must focus on issues like inclusion, flexibility, and diversity to earn the trust and loyalty of Millennial workers, the survey suggests[2].

Why Skilled Trades Don’t Interest Independent Millennials

Many Baby Boomers spoke negatively of trade professions. Some would place a stigma on manual positions, even highly skilled ones. They called them dirty jobs for the working classes. Baby Boomer parents would warn kids that they’d turn out like them if they didn’t pursue higher education.

So, Millennials grew up thinking trade work was mundane, low paid, and led nowhere. They were the occupations for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t hack college. But these misconceptions have caused a severe shortage of skilled labor across the US.

Why Skilled Trades Should Interest Millennials

Millennials know little about the diversity in trade occupations and their societal value. The younger members of Gen Y and the older Gen Z need to know the truth. That is, the transition from school to a career in trades is faster and cheaper than a college education. Being able to earn while you learn to qualify as an expert is significant.

The growing demand for skilled tradespersons is no small thing. There are now millions of well-paid job opportunities for this cohort across North America.

The Steep Rise in US College Education

US college education costs double every 10-12 years, rising at a higher rate than inflation and family incomes. And there is no data to suggest this trend will change anytime soon. Today, 4.8 million Millennials carry an average student loan debt of $38,877 per borrower. That’s more than any other generation, and it doesn’t include credit card debt, auto, or personal loans [3] [4]. 

A Harris Poll survey found that 68% of Gen Y are still paying off student loans. Around 50% of older indebted Millennials now say college wasn’t worth the investment [5] [6]. 

US Census Bureau data shows the median Millennial household pretax income is $71,566. However, the average Millennial spends most of what they earn. That suggests there’s little remaining cash for emergencies or to invest in retirement plans [7]. 

The Role of Trade Unions

Many trade workers belong to trade unions. These juristic bodies exist to negotiate better wages, benefits, and working conditions for their members. On average, union members earn over 10% more in hourly paid work than their non-union counterparts. Thus, the influence of a union helps close the pay gap between college and trade school jobs while ensuring fair treatment for employees [8].

How Businesses Can Attract Generation Y

The skilled trade industries must understand how the values differ between Millennials and Boomers. The next step is to recognize and debunk the myths about trade jobs. Only then can businesses develop smarter strategies to entice younger workers. 

Millennial Values Vs. Boomer Values

Baby Boomer Values
Position and standing in society. Strong work ethic, job security, stability, paying one’s dues.
Millennial Values
Self-reliance, achievement-oriented, work-life balance, flexible schedules, diversity, equality.

Debunking the 8 Myths About Skilled Trades

The way to attract more Millennials into skilled trades is to know how they think, then market the positives. And there’s plenty to build on. But first, you need to recognize the misconceptions around working as a skilled tradesperson.

The myths below are what so many Millennials have been led to believe growing up. Under each of these falsehoods are the types of messages they need to hear instead.

Myth 1: Manual Trade Jobs Are Unrewarding

Skilled professions offer immense job satisfaction through creating, fixing, or serving. They provide long-term careers, job security, promotions, growth, and diversity.

Myth 2: Trade Work Is Menial and Unimportant

The trades are jobs offering critical services that are always in demand. Experienced tradespersons need specific skill sets and talents that most people don’t possess. Especially when contrasted to the large pool of job seekers who possess basic computer skills.

Myth 3: All Skilled Labor Opportunities Are in Construction

Construction work is only one sector of trade opportunities. Others are mechanical, electrical, plumbing, industrial, medical, and openings for independent contractors.

Myth 4: Trades Jobs Are for the Poorly Educated

You don’t need an undergraduate degree to be intelligent or receive an above-average income. Indeed, many tradespersons need extensive knowledge of sophisticated systems, technical know-how, high capacity for problem-solving, and physical dexterity.

Myth 5: Skilled Manual Work Is Low-Paid

Skilled workers make a good living while enjoying high job stability. And the more experienced and specialized training one has, the higher the rewards. Millions of US jobs pay more than $55,000 a year that don’t require a college degree.

Despite these facts, millions of high school grads seek costly student loans and plan for university. Yet, at the same time, high-paying trade jobs sit empty [9]. 

College Degree Salaries Vs. Trade School Wages

College graduates have higher earning potential than non-graduates, but it’s not that clear-cut. For instance, some tradespeople make more money than degree holders in certain fields. Secondary school teaching is one of several examples. Plus, overtime and other incentives are available to hourly paid trade jobs, which is rarely the case with a fixed salary.

Also, a trades school graduate has more earning years. A doctor, for example, must study for up to 11 years to qualify. Now when you add the massive student loan debts, trade positions start to look a lot more attractive [10].

National Science Board Report: Predicts 3.4M unfilled US trade jobs by the end of 2022[11].

Myth 6: Pay for Skilled Workers Is Inconsistent

The demand for trained workers is high across many sectors, offering above-average pay. And because trades jobs are often essential, they tend to ride out market downturns and beat recessions [12].

Myth 7: Trade Work Is Highly Dangerous

Worker safety takes the highest priority, mandated by strict legislation, trade unions, and insurance company requisites. These stringent preconditions help protect workers from harm.

Myth 8: All Trade Work Is Physically Demanding

Many skilled jobs are hands-on, but they’re not all physically draining. Some workers enjoy the physical aspect of positions to keep fit, strong, and healthy outdoors. Other positions like project management planning and administration are as physically demanding as office jobs requiring a college degree.

Businesses must steer younger people away from these myths. The rest of this article focuses on attracting and retaining young workers to the trades sector.

How to Entice and Retain Younger Workers in Trade Jobs

Few Millennials would say skilled labor is ripe with opportunities, offering high wages and stable employment. Of course, it does, but hardly any younger job seekers know it. So, the way to get Gen Y more interested in trades jobs is through education and optimistic marketing. But to achieve that, your company must also appeal to younger workers.

What Millennials Look for in an Employer

While good salaries and benefits are attractions, Millennials also consider a company’s social impact. Ethical practices matter to this cohort, including how a business treats others. It’s true; 83% of younger employees show greater loyalty to concerns that contribute in some way to societal or environmental causes [13].

What Millennials Seek in a Workplace

Generation Y loves diversity and expects inclusivity in the workplace. Research from 2018 saw that Millennials stay longer with open-minded employers who check these boxes. For the average person, diversity means companies that think creatively. And inclusivity extends to acceptance of race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation.

Millennials will walk if a company’s pay and purpose do not deliver. That’s consistent with a 2021 survey of 300,000 US Millennial workers. It found that Gen Y employees are 4x more likely to quit than Baby Boomers and 11x more likely than Gen X [14].

Pew Research: Millennials(72.1M) have overtaken Baby Boomers(71.6M) as America’s largest generation. Gen Y now accounts for about 25% of the world’s population[15].

Flexible working hours are a priority for most Millennials when possible. That includes where they work as well as when. Still, remote working is unlikely with trade jobs other than administrative-type positions. Millennials appreciate regular feedback, too. It shows you’re interested in their career development, which is of central importance to this cohort.

Final Thoughts

Millennials look for company cultures that embrace innovation and value collaboration. They also want employers to invest in employee development and offer flexibility and diversity in the workplace. The skilled trades have a tremendous opportunity to win over this cohort if they embrace a few changes.

A happy employee is a good worker and more likely to stick around than leave. But as the Gen Y population overtakes Boomers, trade jobs must appeal more to Millennials.

Here are 7 takeaways to be mindful of as you target this job-hopping cohort:

  1. Offer fair pay and a sense of personal meaning
  2. Encourage collaboration and freedom of expression
  3. Be sure to include women in your outreach
  4. Prepare to be flexible (especially post-pandemic)
  5. Offer inclusive benefits for all
  6. Embrace gender equity
  7. Create a marketing strategy based on the above

Millennials can be incredibly loyal, hard-working employees with the right employer. That means companies that recruit, communicate, and develop to Gen Y values.

Ask the Experts 

Are you a well-established industrial, construction, or service trade company? Do you have difficulty attracting and or keeping younger employees Consider collaborating with Bold Entity, an expert B2B marketing agency.

Bold Entity is an affordable B2B-focused marketing resource/partner. We offer clients and customers a more driven, personal approach to business development and targeted marketing. Our team understands the complexity of creating effective promotional strategies for the Millennial workforce through our results-driven approach.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2018 and has been changed and updated with new information and statistics

  1. https://www.careerbuilder.com/Job-hopping-millenials/
  2. https://www2.deloitte.com/what-millennials-want/
  3. https://educationdata.org/student-loan-debt-by-generation
  4. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/09/how-much-debt-millennials-have/
  5. https://www.businessinsider.com/millennials-college-not-worth-student-loan-debt/
  6. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/68%-millennials-still-paying-off-student loans/
  7. https://www.cnbc.com/select/how-much-money-millennials-make/
  8. https://apwu.org/news/new-report-proves-how-unions-raise-bar-all-workers
  9. https://www.npr.org/high-paying-trade-jobs-sitting-empty/
  10. https://collegefinance.com/trade-school-vs-college-degree-salaries/ 
  11. https://www.nsf.gov/nsb/national-science-board-report/
  12. https://www.businesswire.com/skilled-trades-in-economic-downturns/
  13. https://www.satellinstitute.org/ethical-practices-matter/
  14. https://www.greatplacetowork.com/2021-millennials-survey/
  15. https://www.pewresearch.org/millennials-americas-largest-generation/
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