For the last three years, according to ManpowerGroup, the hardest segment of the workforce for employers to staff with skilled talent hasn’t been registered nurses or engineers or even web developers.

It’s been the skilled trades – the welders, electricians, machinists, etc., that are so prevalent in manufacturing and construction. Here are five things facing us as we move forward in identifying the skills gap problem as we know it.

1. In 2012, 53% of skilled-trade workers in the U.S. were 45 years and older.

2. According to EMSI 18.6% were between the ages of 55 and 64.

3. Projected growth in the skilled trades job market – 14.3% from 2010-2020.

4. Need for almost 20.5 million new workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

5. Over 50% of the existing workforce is set to retire in next 10 years.

Perhaps the biggest problem we face isn't the actual need for replacement workers, but rather the pool in which we have to draw from. Today's youth are the most technologically advanced generation to date.

Having lived most of their life with technology at their fingertips, Generation-Y or those born between 1980 and 2000 may have advanced knowledge of the Internet and social networking, but they are vastly unprepared in the area of business practice and operation; skills that may not seem directly related to skilled trades work, but nonetheless are.

To continue the discussion about a skilled workers farm team, go to our new Plumbing Talk forum.

The need for such business understanding is imperative to the lean practices of most plumbing and HVAC contracting firms. Workers with less knowledge of how a business operates in the office and on paper will translate into trade workers making less than desirable decisions in the field. 

Today we are putting skilled workers in company trucks armed with invoices and sales tools to net the company (hopefully) large profits on every job, but lack of knowledge in how the business operates add further to the training investment. Could this generation require the most amount of training when compared to generations who precede them?

The numbers and opinions of many contractor owners point to yes. So much so that the trend in hiring Generation-Y workers has contractors examining personality or attitude rather than initial technical ability; this requires longer technical training periods to get the young employee up to speed.

And the process has to start earlier than ever if there is to be any hope of producing a valuable technician/installer down the road.

Technical ability and interest in the job at hand are not overlooked, on the contrary, it has and always will be a qualifier for the job, but getting this younger tech-savvy generation interested is a big challenge. If the statistics hold true, and we actually do need almost 20.5 million skilled trades workers over the next decade, we will need to rely heavily on the Gen-Y population.  

A possible shift in how these workers are brought into the skilled trades may be closely aligned to a "Farm System" similar to that found in the major leagues. Attracting bench recruits to fill the needed roles of delivery and shop staff or field apprentice presents the need to create summer or seasonal employment positions.

Prime candidates for these positions would be high school students awaiting their senior year or fresh graduates considering college in the fall and partnering with local high schools with the offer of desirable paying summer work for their students is a good place to start. 

Building a base employee pool and inviting back those that fit the bill for the following season is just one way to get Gen-Y workers into the trades. Retaining them is a whole other challenge and a discussion better left for a later article.

Eric Aune started Aune Plumbing LLC in 2004 and specializes in residential and small commercial hydronic heating systems and service. He is a graduate of Dunwoody College of Technology and Plumbers Local 15, Minneapolis Apprenticeship Training Program, and is currently a United Association Instructor and teaches for the Plumbers Local 15 JATC. Aune is also founding partner and vice president of mechanical-hub.com. Contact him at: eaune@mechanical-hub.com