Nearly 6,000 Houston-area high school students had the opportunity to "test drive" design and construction careers in the kitchen and bath industry in the spring as part of the National Kitchen & Bath Association's (NKBA) BridgeYear/NKBA Career Tour. According to the NKBA, half of the participating students expressed high interest in one or more industry careers and 90% reported positive views about occupations in the kitchen and bath industry.

The findings from the BridgeYear/NKBA Career Tour mirror findings from NKBA research among a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school students. The results of the survey indicate that some of the long-held stigmas associated with skilled trades are decreasing. Half of the students surveyed by the NKBA said they were receptive to at least one skilled trade, while fewer than a quarter expressed concerns that parents or peers would view a career in the skilled trades negatively.

Respondents said the top perceived benefits of kitchen and bath careers were the opportunities to be their own boss, to build a business, to help clients, and to create plans and designs. According to the NKBA, interest was nearly equal between males and females, though females demonstrated a higher interest in design careers and males expressed a higher interest in the potential for business entrepreneurship. The survey found smart home and AV/security specialty trades rank near the top in appeal among skilled trades.

"Our industry depends on a strong pipeline of craftspeople to survive and thrive," Bill Darcy, CEO of the NKBA, said in a news release. "Our national research, combined with our BridgeYear/NKBA Career Tours experience, tells us that our data-driven approach is working to attract the new talent our industry needs."

The NKBA's survey, conducted between March 23 and March 30, found three-quarters of respondents agreeing with the statement that skilled trades would "always be in demand." Students said a better understanding of career paths would likely help attract more students, as only 25% of respondents said they felt very informed on the topic. Two in five said they would need a lot of information, including information on how to get training, if they wanted to run their own business. Students said field trips to local businesses and technical colleges, one-on-one "day at work" visits with local skilled tradespeople, career days, and opportunities to meet and talk to kitchen and bath professionals would help bridge the knowledge gap and spur interest among high school students.

"The current economic climate notwithstanding, the pipeline for skilled trades has been in decline, largely due to the elimination of shop classes and vocational training at many high schools in the U.S. At that same time, the industry has evolved to attract young people who are tech-savvy, as well as more females," Darcy said.

The BridgeYear/NKBA Career Tour, produced in collaboration with Houston-based non-profit BridgeYear as part of the NKBA NextUp campaign, introduced high-school students to careers in the kitchen and bath industry. The program was designed to bridge the knowledge gap about trades by providing students with 15-to-25 minute, hands-on simulations designed to emulate a traditional career fair.

The NKBA NextUp program, an initiative designed to recruit and empower a younger workforce, was launched in early 2020. The program plans to approach the industry labor shortage in three ways: by creating hands-on experiences that introduce high school students to designa nd construction, by changing the dialogue about career paths to younger people, and by connecting interest to action through the NKBA's network.

"We launched NKBA NextUp after feedback from our members revealed that finding skilled labor was the number-one concern for their businesses," Darcy said. "Therefore, NKBA NextUP will be mobilizing our membership to provide information and introductions to our industry, including mentorships and internships."