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Flash Story:

The Dead-End Job Stigma: How to Attract New and Experienced Workers to Skilled Trade Jobs and Keep Them

The Dead-End Job Stigma: How to Attract New and Experienced Workers to Skilled Trade Jobs and Keep Them

Written by:
Colton Schlotman
Digital Communications Specialist
schlotman@agma.org

In an SHRM article entitled “The Blue-Collar Drought” from 2019, Dana Wilkie noted that, “manufacturing jobs have steadily fallen as a share of employment for decades, meaning fewer and fewer people are taking manufacturing positions to earn a living. Such jobs accounted for about 25 percent of the labor force in 1970—or about 1 in 4 jobs—but less than 13 percent in 2016, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which relied on BLS data.” In the same article, a 2018 report from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute is referenced that says “there could be as many as 2.4 million unfilled manufacturing jobs…[which] would have an estimated $2.5 trillion negative impact in the U.S.”

What’s going on? Why are these jobs so hard to fill? There are many suggestions to help employers hire more workers floating about, both within the previously mentioned article and general internet discourse. We’ll be focusing on three suggestions in a series of blog posts: training and skill advancement, job flexibility and security, and compensation and benefits. This blog will dive into the subject of education, training, and skill advancement.

For those that haven’t had to navigate the job market recently, it is equally brutal and infuriating. The Experience sections of job listings are perplexing for recent graduates and young adults, while the Required Skills sections can alienate industry veterans. If a job is entry-level but requires multiple years of experience and comes with a laundry list of must-have skills, then that potentially excellent employee possibly won’t even apply, even if they could be trained to do the job. Similarly, if someone from the industry or an adjacent one doesn’t have one or two of highly specific skills a company wants, those potentially excellent employees may just look elsewhere. The through-line here is that the industry is missing out on great workers if those in the industry don’t train and educate those workers.

Skilled trades, which manufacturing falls under, are uniquely suited to dealing with this problem via vocational education programs like apprenticeships or by facilitating the continued education of their current employees, either in-house or via third-party training sessions, such as the AGMA Education department provides.

Apprenticeships are enticing for multiple reasons: 1. They are paid; a worker is earning money while developing skills; 2. They result in real certifications or degrees; postsecondary education without going in debt is only ever an upside; 3. They instill a sense of security and trust in workers; a company that takes the time to thoroughly train someone is less likely to lay them off or fire them. Continued education or retraining for already skilled professionals has similar benefits and makes them more likely to be recruited and retained.

How do we know this? Simple. It’s what manufacturers are telling us. Long-term training, due to its high upfront costs, can sometimes be perceived as a bad deal. The reality is different. In a 2020 survey of the manufacturing industry by The Manufacturing Institute, companies reported that employees given training opportunities had improved:

  • productivity (74.8% of respondents).
  • internal advancement opportunities (67.2% of respondents).
  • morale (64.9% of respondents).
  • retention (48.9% of respondents).
  • recruitment efforts (38.9% of respondents).

The perception that many skilled trades jobs are only “unskilled labor” that results in a “dead-end job” comes from, in part, those companies that don’t train their workers and don’t offer training opportunities throughout employees’ careers. If a worker is taught new skills and uses those skills while working, evidence suggests that there is higher likelihood to attract workers and keep them. But that’s only one piece of the puzzle…