The Covid-19 pandemic has left millions of Americans unemployed, but the skilled trade sector of the job market has been complicated for much longer than the past year.
A January 2021 report by PBS states “There’s a shortage of skilled tradespeople throughout the American economy, and it is a persistent problem that started well before the pandemic. But what’s behind that gap and what can be done?” Despite rising salaries, the skilled-labor shortage is getting worse. This is a common refrain, reiterated in numerous articles from the last decade. Baby Boomers in the skilled trade industry are retiring rapidly; they also tend to retire at an earlier age than other professionals. Skilled trade jobs need to be filled, but there simply aren’t enough workers trained to fill the jobs being vacated. Employers are frustrated by the fact that many young people are flocking to the perceived glamour of the tech industry rather than training for skilled labor jobs, despite the fact that many of these trade jobs offer highly competitive salaries, opportunities for rapid growth, and unusual occupational stability.
In January 2021, workforce solution management company WorkRise discussed their plan to address the necessity of closing the skilled labor gap: “Longer-term, there is a real need to incentivize younger generations to step into these roles. We’re about to enter one of the largest skilled labor gaps in our country’s history, just as we’re poised to begin heavily investing in infrastructure such as new power plants, new bridges, new roads and more. That means there will be many new jobs on the horizon — without enough people ready to do them. In fact, if the United States does not address this problem head on, now, there will be 10 million jobs that will be left unfilled in the next 10 years.”
Skilled trade jobs are booming in the pandemic economy, according to a February 2021 analysis by PeopleReady. Demand has soared for certain skilled trade jobs over the course of the past year, partly due to the fact that many Americans have taken the opportunity to address home and business repairs or begin new construction. Many people were (and are still) working from home, and their children spent more time at home due to remote learning; their homes saw far more wear and tear, necessitating engagement of a variety of skilled trade labor.
Gray’s data on job postings reflects this rapidly growing demand for a variety of skilled trades, including electricians, carpenters, air conditioning and heating mechanics, plumbers, photovoltaic/solar installers, roofers, and more.
Skilled Trade Job Postings by SOC Code
Gray’s data also shows that certain trade jobs saw particularly notable demand, especially in the latter half of 2020 and into the beginning of 2021. For instance, job data for solar/photovoltaic installers shows an interesting pattern; while there was a dropoff in the winter months of 2020, demand surged in late summer and fall, and November 2020 outstripped November 2019 by 50%.
Jobs in Solar and Photovoltaic Installation by Month
This data makes a strong case for a focused effort to increase education, reveal the wealth of opportunities, highlight benefits, and discourage bias against careers in skilled trade. Work needs to be done. The labor gap needs filling. Young people entering the workforce need a strong foundation to build a sustainable life in their chosen professions, and many skilled trade occupations offer a chance at financial and career stability. In light of the skilled trade labor gap, institutions would be wise to continue efforts to create or expand programs for students considering a skilled trade profession.