We were Warned – Proposed Solutions…

In our last blog, I referenced the Reuters news article “U.S. refiners face severe labor shortage for deferred maintenance” (1/2/17 – by Jarrett Renshaw).  In this article and others, the current skilled labor shortage was highlighted.  However, we also promised some solutions in this blog.  What are they?

Let’s go back to the Reuters article again.  In the article, this quote was also found:

“Earlier this year, Fluor opened a skilled craft training center in the Gulf Coast, stating that while the firm could not train its way out of the shortage, it hopes to alleviate the problem”.

Increased training is a partial answer.  However, in most skilled trades disciplines, it takes a minimum of four years to achieve a journeyman status.  In some technical skills, the apprenticeship can take up to 6 years.  Hence the quote “the firm could not train its way out of the shortage”.  However, as a tradesperson begins their training, they become more and more skilled each year, so in year two, the apprentice becomes more capable, and in year three even more so, etc.  So, if we started training right now, the problem will be eventually eliminated.  Or so it looks on paper.

However, this approach overlooks the second part of the problem.  How do we overcome the headcount shortage when our retiring labor resources exceed our incoming apprentice resources?  How do we raise the number of individuals that “sign up” for skilled trades apprenticeships each year?  The answer to that question is simply it must start in middle or high school.

It is during that time that we must interest the student in what a skilled trades future holds for them.  One of the best ways to do this is to enroll them in shop class.  Oh – wait a minute!!  Most school boards have eliminated shop class from their school curriculum. In fact, how many high school guidance counselors do you know that recommend that a student choose a path to the skilled trades?  Even Germany, who used to be the bastion for skilled trades apprenticeships, cannot fill the apprenticeship openings in their country.

Let’s not even start on the income potential for a skilled tradesperson vs. the student debt required to earn a degree.  I have already covered that in detail in a previous blog.

So, the major hurdle here is PERCEPTION.  When will we start realizing that a skilled tradesperson is truly a Gold Collar Worker? (see our last blog for this point).  When is the skilled trades profession considered to be an acceptable career, so that parents, guidance counselors, etc. will encourage their teenagers to sign up for an apprenticeship?  We really need to change our perceptions otherwise our industrial future appears rather bleak.

With this in mind, are there some ways to speed up the resolution to this problem?  Are there technologies that could shortcut the learning process that will accelerate the progression of individuals into the skilled trades?

We hear a lot about the Internet of Things (IoT).  Is there some potential help there?  We will explore that in our next blog.

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