The emphasis on standardized tests and college admission in high schools have created a critical shortage in qualified tradespeople. Less students are choosing to attend vocational high schools which is causing these schools to close. College is not for everyone and there are strong reasons to support students who decide to opt out of the college track and seek training, formal and on the job, in the trades.

A 2017 study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found between 1991-2015: “Good jobs in non-manufacturing blue-collar industries, such as construction and transportation, increased in 38 states. North Dakota, South Dakota, and Utah experienced the most robust job growth in non-manufacturing blue collar industries, as well as in the total number of blue-collar jobs.”

However, this growth has been uneven. The study also found that 12 states, particularly in the Northeast, saw a marked reduction in these types of jobs, while California, Texas, and Florida have seen the largest increase.

This study indicates that there are 3,477,000 people with well-paying construction jobs in the United States with a median salary of $59,000. 

Construction firm owners are reporting that the labor shortage is forcing them to  increase salaries significantly in the past five years in order to retain skilled top talent. 

Making matters even more challenging, the workforce skews heavily toward middle-aged people. At the moment, there are not enough young people entering into the trades to eventually replace them. As the labor shortage intensifies, it will push salaries even higher. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction managers earn $101,000 annually on average. Construction is a unique trade where there is a defined career path. Management level positions within larger construction firms are made up of people who have come from the trades and learned how to effectively run projects. It is rare in today’s workforce to have a vertical ladder that is based upon skills that can be obtained directly through work.

Construction expert Shawn McCadden recommends pursuing a career in the trades, but warns young people to research companies before they accept a job offer. McCadden cautions, “There are companies that don’t use the proper safety equipment, don’t have workman’s compensation policies and treat people like they’re disposable,”.  He also says that some firms do not invest in their teams and do not have a defined career path.

The average cost to obtain a four-year degree is more than $100,000. Today’s college graduates are burdened more by student loan debt than ever. According to Student Loan Hero, Americans owe over $1.48 trillion in student loan debt, spread over 44 million borrowers. This is $620 billion more than the total credit card debt in United States.

A student who enters the trades right out of  traditional or vocational high school will not only incur zero student debt, but will gain four (or more) years’ work experience by the time their college-bound classmates enter the workforce. Those who are motivated and eager entering the trades early can potentially move into the management side of the business before the physical work takes its toll on their body.

The construction labor shortage is expected to increase which will result in even greater opportunities for young people interested in working in the trades. Remodeling spending is at an all time high and is expected to remain this way for several years. This means that job security is not a problem for highly motivated and skilled tradespeople.

Very soon it may be more lucrative to be an electrician than a lawyer. Professional tradespeople are going to be few and far between. It is becoming a case of supply and demand.