A skilled trade job requires a specific skill set, usually honed through vocational training or apprenticeships. From carpenters who build the very infrastructure of cities to electricians who keep the lights on, skilled tradespeople are crucial contributors to society. Despite their importance, there's been a decline in interest over the past few decades. Between 2020 and 2022, NPR reported a 49% decline in applications for technical jobs such as these.
However, the tide is turning, and skilled trades are making a comeback. According to Newsweek, manufacturing, logistics, and home-building skills are expected to stay in high demand, signaling the need for these skills. The reasons for this upswing are complex and multifaceted, based on numerous factors.
Trends in the Job Market
Many societal trends are at play, and many are keeping the demand for skilled trades high. Some of these trends include:
- Technology: As technology explodes and various industries adapt, it creates new opportunities for skilled workers such as tech-savvy electricians, welders, and other trade workers.
- Stability: In the wake of economic uncertainty, many unemployed Americans want stable jobs in skilled trades that have traditionally been recession-proof.
- Shortages: There's a significant shortage of skilled tradespeople in the U.S. For example, according to an Associated Builders and Contractors model, the construction industry will need more than 500,000 additional workers in 2023.
- Increasing demand: Many employers desperately need skilled labor or trade workers as the older population ages out and into retirement.
- Emerging industries: New industries require specialized skills to learn and work with new technologies and systems.
These are only a snapshot of the trends, and as various industries continue to grow, they will become even more critical.
Cultural Perceptions of Skilled Trades
Historically, skilled trades have often been seen as less prestigious than those that require a degree. In a 2023 SkillPointe article, the author illustrates the historical background of this perception.
- Historical evolution: Back in the day, vocational programs were set up and backed by the federal government to train skilled workers during the Industrial Revolution. But this changed in the 1960s. Suddenly, this shift was towards traditional academic education, and vocational programs took a backseat.
- Negative perceptions: In the past, students who opted for vocational education were often looked down upon. This unfortunate perception created a stigma around vocational education.
- Changing perceptions: More and more people are starting to support vocational education. Parents and students are realizing not everyone has to go down the traditional college path.
But despite these positive changes, there is still work to be done. Negative stereotypes about tradespeople persist, and many young people are unaware of the opportunities available in these fields. To continue the upward trend, society must challenge outdated perceptions and promote the benefits of skilled trades.
Skilled Trades That Are on the Rise
There's a broad range of trades on the rise that you can explore, including:
- Electricians: The BLS predicts a 6% employment increase over the next decade. This is driven by ongoing needs such as installing and maintaining building power systems. Alternative energy like solar and wind are also expected to create more electrician jobs.
- Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters: These professions are projected to grow by 2% in the next 10 years, per the BLS. This is due to new construction projects and ongoing maintenance and repairs.
- HVAC technicians: These jobs have a projected 6% growth in the coming years. This demand is fueled by building construction, the rise of complex climate-control systems, and the increasing emphasis on energy efficiency.
However, these aren't the only trades experiencing a high demand. Many new and historical trades are finding new relevance.
Industries That Are Hiring Skilled Workers
Many industries require skilled workers to meet their growing demands, but not all of them can fill their needs or are competing with demand to gain skilled workers.
- Manufacturing: According to the U.S. Census, this industry experienced a devastating loss of over a million jobs during the pandemic, exacerbating the pre-existing labor crisis. Skilled workers like CNC operators, welders, and machinists are in demand to help meet production goals and maintain equipment.
- Transportation: The BLS projects a faster-than-average growth for this industry over the next decade. This is primarily due to the need for replacement workers as current employees retire and innovations create new positions. This includes jobs such as railroad workers and heavy and tractor-trailer truck operators.
- Agriculture: Despite technological advancements, skilled workers are still needed in the agriculture industry. The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that U.S. agriculture needs 1.5 to 2 million skilled farm workers, equipment operators, and mechanics.
While these are only a few of the many industries, there is a growing need for skilled workers not only to uphold traditional roles but to adapt and innovate within new ones.
Opportunities for Growth in Skilled Trades
Skilled trades provide many professional and personal growth opportunities, making them increasingly attractive as career choices. One of the major benefits is the potential to earn a good income right after training, without hefty student loans that often come with a four-year degree. For example, boilermakers and electricians are among the highest-paying skilled trade jobs.
There's also a lot of room for advancement as workers gain experience, they can move to supervisory roles or start their own businesses. A mechanic who starts by learning how to work with different types of diesel engines, such as Cummins 4BT and Cummins ISX, could go on to open their own repair shop.
How To Choose a Career in a Skilled Trade
Choosing a trade career isn't always intuitive and requires careful consideration. Here are some steps you can take to select the right trade for you:
- Consider what you enjoy doing in your spare time.
- Learn about the available skilled trades and what they involve.
- Look at the projected growth and average pay for different trades.
- Try to get some practical experience in the field you're interested in.
- Consider the necessary training.
Each industry will be different and may require varied levels of experience or certification.
How Skilled Trades Have Changed
New technologies have transformed many trades, requiring workers to adapt and learn new skills. For example, mechanics now need to understand complex computer systems in addition to traditional mechanical components due to the rise of electric vehicles.
Demographics have also changed — with more women entering trades traditionally dominated by men. Moreover, there's been a shift in education, with increased recognition of the value of vocational training and on-the-job learning. Salaries have also improved for many skilled trades, reflecting the high demand for these workers and the advanced skills they bring. Regulations have also increased in some fields to ensure worker safety and quality standards.
The Future of Skilled Trades
The future is bright for skilled trades. For instance, the renewable energy sector is one of the fastest-growing industries, offering opportunities for electricians and technicians. Moreover, automation is likely to change, but not eliminate, many skilled trades. While some tasks may be automated, the need for human skill and judgment will remain crucial.
Overall, skilled trades offer promising career opportunities with increasing demand for skilled workers. Now is the perfect time to pursue a trade aligned with your interests!