Westfield Logo
Customer Agent Pay Bill: 800.766.9133 800.766.9133 More Options

Billing questions?
Call us Mon–Fri, 8a–8p EST


The Skilled Trade Shortage Survival Guide

Person clapping sawdust off of their hands

America has a skilled trade shortage. According to Forbes, more than three million positions are left unfilled because there aren't enough skilled workers.

In the short term, this has serious consequences. As the San Antonio Express-News points out, Texas construction firms can't find enough skilled employees to jump-start rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey. There are long-term problems too. As noted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), electricians are on track for 14 percent job growth through 2024 — but more jobs being available doesn't mean more workers. It just widens the gap between what's needed and who's available.

For contractors, two questions need answers. First: Why the shortage? Second: What's the best way to hire great help?

Changing Circumstances

Consider a recent survey from the Boy Scouts of America. Its career-development program asked 150,000 secondary school students about their interest in 200 career choices, but only 3 percent had any interest in the skilled trades, and half of those respondents were aiming for automotive work. Data from the National Electrical Contractors Association backs up the Boy Scouts — while 7,000 electricians enter the job market every year, around 10,000 leave.

So what's behind this shift? Tech is partly to blame, with higher-paying jobs being offered that don't require the same level of physical fitness as traditional contracting. Add in the recent recession, combined with school policies that focus on standardized testing rather than apprenticeship models. Then consider the trend of family businesses closing their doors because just 15 percent pass to the next generation and even fewer survive to see third-generation ownership. It's a recipe for disaster.

While attitudes around skilled trades are changing — especially as more device-heavy, single-family homes are slated for construction — the legacy of a skilled trade shortage makes it difficult for established companies to find the right person, let alone convince them to sign on. Here are four ways to help rev up the recruitment process:

1. Pay Well

Want top-quality talent? Be willing to pay for it. This means looking at the median salary (for example, just under $53,000 for electricians in 2016, according to the BLS) and doing better for new hires. But that won't be enough.
Consider tapping your existing staff for skilled referrals and paying them if the leads play out. Potential hires are more likely to trust someone they know (as opposed to an online job advertisement) when it comes to company culture, expectations and working conditions.

2. Be Clear

Be straightforward about what you're offering. Don't sugarcoat what new hires are expected to do, the hours they need to work and the overtime they'll need to take on. Here's why: The next generation of workers has no patience for companies that aren't truthful. Tell little white lies and you'll lose new hires; be transparent and you'll limit the applicant pool but get exactly what you pay for.

3. Partner Up

Sometimes you can't get the help you want. During these times, consider partnering with local schools or training programs to offer internships and apprenticeships. You'll get some skilled labor at a cheaper rate, and if the relationship works out, you get a skilled employee. Freelancers and temps are other options. This means more paperwork and micromanagement, but can help you get through crunch time.

4. Get Social

Are you on social media? Make accounts on all the big sites — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even Instagram. Share your job postings there, then ask current employees and trade schools to do the same. Social sites let you skip the tedious resume drop-off and phone call stages and instead cut right to the chase: Are potential hires skilled or not?
The skilled trade shortage won't vanish overnight. Get the best shot at finding great hires by paying well, being transparent, partnering with local programs and getting social.