With an ever-increasing demand for skilled labor in America, to the tune of 7 million open jobs, it is evident we lack the talent supply to meet current hiring needs across most sectors. In fact, I have spent the past 25 years working in the employment industry and I cannot recall a time when there has been higher demand for skilled labor at all levels and in all industries. With only 62.9% of people participating in the workforce today, employers will likely fall short of meeting their labor needs.
I think it’s time we reverse that trend. Collectively, businesses, academia and local, state and federal governments all need to find ways to encourage and engage the able workforce to participate in learning new skills, find ways to remain relevant in today’s workplace and improve their work and personal lives. Employers, in particular, must begin to play a greater role in solving the talent crisis. Not only do we stand to gain (or lose) in solving this challenge, but we are well positioned to provide more education and on-the-job training to our current workforces.
How did we get here?
Over the past few decades our country rapidly grew into a service-based economy and most young adults are now encouraged to pursue a college education, especially in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. Even though STEM jobs continue to grow, they are not for everyone. There needs to be a change in the perception of skilled trade careers and a renewed focus on preparing workers for these vital yet underappreciated roles.
NPR recently reported that good jobs in the skilled trades are plentiful however, students are almost universally being steered toward bachelor’s degrees. As a result, 76% of construction companies nationwide are having trouble finding qualified workers. The same crisis can be found in other sectors, such as manufacturing and infrastructure-related fields.
Learning from the past, so we can prepare for the future
I am particularly passionate about apprenticeships because I believe there is something special about learning a specific skill or trade from experienced craftsmen, artists and teachers. I have heard about this gift my whole life from my own grandfather and father, whose lives were greatly influenced by apprenticeships.
My grandfather, Joseph Bily, who migrated to New York from Czechoslovakia, joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 3 in his early 20s learning his craft under skilled electricians. He pursued a career as an electrician because of an interest in electronics and hobby for building radios. He had a zest for the business and built a successful career that allowed him to thrive despite the Great Depression. Because he had a skilled trade, he was able to find work with the IBEW Local 1 in St. Louis, MO when the market dried up in New York. Eventually, he found his way back to his hometown, leaving his fingerprints all over New York from the midtown tunnel to the New York airports and his favorite – Radio City Music Hall.
Following in his footsteps, my father, Charles J. Bily, spent his summer breaks from college working as a junior apprentice in IBEW Local 3. After deciding college wasn’t right for him, he spent the next five years apprenticing before launching his career as an electrician.
My father often describes his time as an apprentice, which combined both classroom and on-the-job training, as an incredible opportunity to learn. He worked under senior electricians who would guide, teach, and mentor him as he learned the trade. He worked five days a week and attended classes two nights a week. Each year had a specific learning theme, and the coursework would also keep students up to date on the changes to the electrical code. Ultimately, the program provided him with focused learning opportunities on everything from math, geometry, and formulas to broader thinking, logic, and reasoning. Continue reading here…
Origin: The Staffing Stream