According to the Bureau of Labor, “Employment of carpenters is expected to increase 13% during the 2008–2018 decade.” Even if the Bureau missed the boat on calculating in the effects of an economic downturn, there’s no arguing that the current trade labor force is aging and there are fewer young people interested in pursuing trade careers.

“As an industry we have to spread the word and improve education for people to take these positions,” says Roger Gutheil, president of the employee benefits and HR consulting firm GMR Associates, in Rochester, N.Y.

Most of Gutheil’s clients are in the building and construction industry, and as a state board member and a regional council member of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), a national trade association, he sees firsthand the effects of the aging workforce.

Hands-on Training

“There’s an idea that everyone is supposed to go to college. That’s our most formidable challenge,” Gutheil says. When his ABC council was approached by the Boy Scouts Explorer Program to set up a group (or a “post,” as it’s called) for skilled trades, they began a trial program.

Nearly 70% of high school graduates go to college within two years of graduating. But only about 4 in 10 Americans have obtained either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree by their mid-20s.

Now in its third year, the program takes boys and girls of ages 14 to 20 and introduces them to masonry, carpentry, HVAC, drywall, plumbing, electrical, heavy equipment, finish carpentry, and project management over the course of eight two-hour sessions.

Individual businesses donate their time to hands-on learning at a jobsite or in their offices along with a short lecture on what these jobs entail, what the job prospects are, and where to follow up for more formal training and certification.

ABC also has added a session on apprenticeship training and coordinated with New York’s SUNY (State University of New York) programs.

The plan is to take the Boy Scouts Explorer program to ABC’s four other New York state regions in 2012 and then bring it to the national ABC office for other states to pick up.

“The program is only as good as the people involved in it,” Gutheil points out. “We’ve got to break down the stereotype of these professions. We’re increasing our focus on getting to those at the high school level and getting a better handle on marketing the benefits of these careers.”

—Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.