Print Friendly and PDF

Skilled Trades Today

By Noah Purcell

A broad range of diverse industries support exciting career opportunities from health care to advanced manufacturing

As technology redefines every sector in America’s economy, skilled trades workers are increasingly sought after across a widening spectrum of industries. From running medical diagnostic equipment in hospitals, to keeping servers up and running, to ensuring that vital infrastructure is sound, and using advanced manufacturing techniques, skilled trades workers are often the glue that keeps America together.

“I hope that people recognize that there’s a role for all types of skills and all types of work, and it’s all valuable,” said Amy Cell, who has worked on talent issues for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and Ann Arbor SPARK over the last decade. “There’s a place for everyone, there’s lots of skills that are needed in all these different areas of employment, and you want to encourage people to choose the best thing for them.”

With the expansion of the skilled trades footprint, companies and workers need to remain vigilant to keep up with rapid change.

“Generally, the expectations for people who work in skilled trades have grown tremendously in recent years,” said Cathy Hendrian, vice president of human resources at Consumers Energy “The development of new technology has led people who work in skilled trades to learn new skills simply to keep up.”

The rise of technology has not been as rough on skilled trades workers as it has been on some other manufacturing-based employment.

“Like every industry, we have to be technologically advanced,” said Don O’Connell, executive director of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 Labor Management Education Committee. “But unlike the automotive industry our jobs have not been sent out of the U.S. or replaced by robots.”

Despite the fact that the skilled trades are essential, recruitment of young workers has fallen behind the number of people reaching retirement age.

“To complicate matters, our workforce is aging,” O’Connell said. “Many young people have been made to believe that the road to success is through a four-year degree. I applaud and support Gov. Snyder’s effort to change that line of thinking. The skilled tradesmen and women who have worked in this industry for many years have done quite well for themselves, their families and the communities they live in. Most of them learned their trade through an apprenticeship program and not incurring huge debt.”

Cell has a stern warning for companies who are not proactively thinking about their future workforces and strategies to develop them.

Amy Cell Quote“There definitely is a looming crisis for manufacturing employers, where they have a little window to aggressively train people and do their succession planning, so they can pass along that organizational knowledge,” Cell said.

Consumers Energy is one organization confronting the talent gap head on.

“We have focused on strengthening our relationships with schools and educational programs at all levels to make today’s generation know there are opportunities for them,” Hendrian said. “We have a strong presence at schools and career fairs throughout the state. Additionally, we engage in partnerships with community colleges and technical centers to create school-to-work programs. These programs offer associate, certification and degree programs designed to prepare people for careers in the energy industry.”

The variety available for skilled trades work can be an important recruitment item to pair alongside financial reward to workers, as well.

“People should know that the tradesmen and women have to be skilled and continuously train because they are always competing for a job,” O’Connell said. “It is not uncommon for a tradesperson to work for tens of employers on several hundred projects over their lifetime.”