The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) recently launched NKBA NextUp, an initiative designed to recruit and empower a younger, well-prepared workforce for the kitchen and bath industry. The initiative will see the association work closely with educators and students interested in pursuing careers in the residential design and construction industry.

Research indicates through 2026, 750,000 jobs are projected to open up in the design and construction industry and hundreds of thousands of industry jobs go unfilled each month. The labor shortage can have impacts on costs and timing of projects. NKBA members reported in 2019 that 30% of upcoming projects were expected to experience delays.

“Unfilled jobs in the design and construction industry may be attributed to consistent messages to students and their parents that the most accessible path to success starts with a four-year college degree. Four-year college degrees are one way, but not the only way,” said Bill Darcy, CEO of the NKBA, said in a news release. “To attract the best talent, NKBA NextUp will engage with a wide network of students who have interest, curiosity, or an entrepreneurial drive that is more compatible with a hands-on career in the kitchen and bath industry, so they are aware of the many paths to success.”

The NKBA NextUp initiative will approach the industry labor shortage in three ways: by creating hands-on experiences that introduce high-school students to design and construction, by changing the dialogue about career paths to younger people, and by connecting interest to action through the NKBA's network.

Part of the NKBA NextUp initiative is the BridgeYear/NKBA Career Tour, which will bring six kitchen and bath career simulations to high schools across the country. The tour will allow students to participate in exercises in finish carpentry, installation, kitchen and bath design, plumbing, electrical, and showroom sales to "try on" various careers. The association will also host a "Kitchen of the Future" and a STEM Kitchen Robot competition at a middle school near NKBA headquarters in Hackettstown, N.J.

As part of its efforts to change the dialogue about career paths, the NKBA is launching an awareness campaign targeting young adults, their parents, educators, and other influencers about industry careers. The campaign will include research to assist in identifying questions and concerns teens may have about the industry.

“We know we have a big job ahead of us to attract the best possible talent that will contribute to the future prosperity and vibrancy of the kitchen and bath industry,” Darcy said. “It’s a tall order, but exactly what a trade association is designed to do: raising the level of professionalism by inspiring, leading and empowering each member of our community.”