“Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Skilled tradespersons are in high demand in the booming kitchen and bath industry of 2021. Yet there are fewer experienced tradespeople around these days. So what can be done about these dual conflicting realities? This advisory will explore this important growing issue that’s currently unfavorably affecting our business and future peace of mind.
The pain point causing another headache for the kitchen and bath industry
No doubt you’ve noticed that the shortage of skilled labor is putting unwanted pressure on our industry. Over the last ten years, there’s been a significant drop in skilled trade laborers. It has not only impacted the kitchen and bath industry but has shown itself to be a problem across the full spectrum of contractor trades — trim carpentry, plumbing, electrical, etc.
Some of our members have told us they had difficulty re-hiring the same subcontractors they’d used before the pandemic hit last year. They found that the tradespeople they had hired in the past were only interested in coming back to work for them if they could negotiate higher rates since their unemployment checks were too enticing to leave home for.
Owners have found that there are not enough of the right subcontractors to call on for a job. In some cases the quality of work suffered, raising job costs for do-overs. Other headaches include job start delays in order to find the right personnel to fill the needed role, which has led to unhappy clients enduring longer wait times for their job to finish.
However, the scope of influence against skilled labor trades stretches beyond the reach of kitchen and bath firm owners.
Breaking down the drop in skilled trade labor
The push for college
The decline in skilled trades has been happening for decades. The push for college education in the United States began around the time World World II ended with the GI Bill. So, for the past 75 years, young people in the US have heard that getting a college education is necessary in order for them to be happy in the workforce as adults.
While this is obviously not true, because college is not the right experience for everyone to have, this message has permeated the national psyche so that enough people believe it.
The New York Times reported in 2000 on New York City public schools that had begun phasing out vocational and technical education from their categories of required learning. Additionally, apprenticeships have been de-emphasized or eliminated from public schools.
Four-year college vs. vocational programs
Since colleges have been touted as being necessary in order to have a good professional career and quality of life, their enrollments have gone up, and we’ve seen the slow decline of tech schools. They’re still plenty of them to be found, although enrollment is typically far below what would be needed to fill the workforce with quality tradespeople over the next twenty years. For the foreseeable future, it looks like vocational and technical schools will continue to be discouraged when stacked against higher learning institutions.
For over ten years, Mike Rowe — of Dirty Jobs and Somebody’s Gotta Do It television fame — has advocated for skilled trade labor to be promoted for the quality of life its careers can lead to, and for the respectful image tradespeople deserve. If we were to see a promotion like his put back into public schools, there would be enough support to channel thousands of needed hands back into the skilled trades.
With Baby Boomers retiring, and while Gen Xer’s and Millennials are already invested in their careers, Generation Z is showing little interest in skilled trades in favor of technology careers. There are simply fewer people to fill the careers offered in the trades industry.
These days, tradespeople in their 50s and 60s are the dominant age bracket while the runner-ups are in their 20s and early 30s. From this roughly 20 year age gap, we’re going to see more of a famine of skilled labor in the kitchen and bath industry before we see a feast.
Shedding a positive light on the skilled trade industry
To put an up-spin on this shortage of skilled tradespersons, the message has to get out that it’s a good time to work skilled trades! There’s a booming industry in kitchen and bath remodeling where a skilled tradesperson could make a pretty good income in business for themselves.
Skilled trades have been in strong demand particularly since the pandemic began. In fact, they are in one of the few business sectors — construction — that actually benefited from the 2020 economic downturn. Those who are not inclined to go to college may find they are right for the skilled trade field and would excel at learning one of the occupations in this industry, such as cabinetry installation.
SEN members are part of the solution
Reestablishing the apprenticeship model
The missing link between the interested young craftsperson of tomorrow and the skilled tradesperson that firm owners need for remodeling work, is the education and practice to develop knowledge and skill in their field. There is, consequentially, a need to reestablish the apprenticeship model. After identifying those young minds that find interest in skilled trades, they need to be placed in a position to learn and succeed.
Offer paid internships to students so that they may get experience in their trade by pairing them with your best subcontractors in their respective fields. Take the initiative to match apprentice to mentor, and develop relationships both with the schools cranking out new laborers, and with your subs who desperately need new tradespersons to gain experience and increase their own top and bottom lines.
These tradespersons new to their field need time to build their skill sets under the tutelage of experienced contractors and protection of a licensed and insured employer, to facilitate their place in the skilled workforce.
You have to go back to school to get to the root of this skilled labor shortage. Get the message out in middle schools and high schools — if college isn’t looking right for you — try the trades.
Recruit with the message that there is a great living to be made in the skilled trades operating in the kitchen and bath industry. A RIDGID survey found that 77% of kids who were educated on skilled trades said they would consider careers in them. The appeal of the skilled trades was ignored and is now an open secret.
SEN Design Group has a personnel recruitment program which could be adapted and leveraged by members to secure additional subcontractors. Contact Skyler Ille for more information. By drawing from the pool of pre-existing skilled tradespeople working now in any sector of the building industry, SEN members could bring them into kitchen and bath remodeling as specialists in our field. The appeal would be year-round indoor work, in pleasant surroundings, with less physical stress on the body compared to most construction jobs. This would provide steady work in a niche market for skilled carpenters and a stream of steady, reliable subcontractors with the specialized skills needed in our industry.
Show them the money
There is a pool of skilled trade labor talent in your area, and you know who the right people are to bring into the field. So, put it on paper, invite them to a meeting and show them how they can be in business for themselves by working as a subcontractor to your firm instead of an employee for residential building contractors or general contractors.
Through you, they’ll have steady work in kitchens and baths, schedule the work themselves, and run their own jobs. There would be the potential of nearly doubling their gross income upfront by subcontracting their skill with your firm. Bringing reliable people who get the job done on time into your network should be a top priority.
We’re Here to Help
This is an exceptional problem that doesn’t have an immediate fix; however, interest in skilled trades is out there. There are things we can do now to set the course for getting talented, skilled tradespeople into the kitchen and bath industry. Building a great, small team of reliable, talented subcontractors can be done now with constant, proper attention paid to attracting and training them. Find out about our offerings here, or contact Skyler Ille at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
— Amy Alberta, SEN Design Group