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Drilling down the data: Why young people are not choosing trade careers

2022 data shows there are an estimated 650,000 open construction jobs. How can these be filled?

Vulnerable to climate change, New York constructs seawall
Construction workers on a flood defense project on the east side of Manhattan, New York - Copyright AFP Charly TRIBALLEAU
Construction workers on a flood defense project on the east side of Manhattan, New York - Copyright AFP Charly TRIBALLEAU

A new employment study finds that 85 percent of young people and 94 percent of parents think that skilled trade work is a good quality career option. Despite this high rating, less than half of youth say they would consider a skilled trade career and far fewer (at a lowly 16 percent) are very likely to consider a skilled trade career.

Defining a ‘skilled trade’ is not straightforward. The term ‘skilled trade’ generally refers to any occupation that requires a particular skill set, knowledge, or ability. It is usually a hands-on job.

Given that many governments have given the go-ahead for infrastructure projects, there is an opportunity as well as a critical component that is missing: trade professionals.

This is captured in the finding that despite skilled trade work being highly respected among high school students, only one in four (28 percent) are headed to a community college, trade program or apprenticeship.

Relating to the U.S. economy as an example, 2022 data shows there are an estimated 650,000 open construction jobs.

To pinpoint what is causing this gap in trade skills? Stanley Black & Decker undertook interviews with high schoolers, their parents and professionals to learn more about the perceptions of trade careers.

The data shows several key drivers of the skilled trades gap. These are:

  • Misunderstanding of long-term financial security.
  • Incorrect knowledge of required skills.
  • Lack of exposure to those in trade skills careers.
  • Observation of trades as a “male-dominated” industry.

Until now, there has been very little research examining young people’s perceptions toward skilled trade careers and what might motivate more of them to explore these opportunities.

In order to challenge the perceptions about careers in a skilled trade, the report recommends broadening the understanding among younger people as to the skills and technology needed for a skilled trade career. It is felt this can can help address the sentiment that high skills are not always required and that many trades have not kept pace with technology.

Another improvement that can be made is with skilled trades people sharing stories about their day-to-day working lives. Here the report states: “Workers say the trades offer good pay, interesting work and high levels of job satisfaction – exactly what young people reported desiring in their careers.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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