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Breaking The Higher Education Perception: Educating Students on Opportunities in Skilled Trades

Katie Muth

For the third consecutive year, Manpower Group’s 2014 Talent Shortage Survey identified the #1 most difficult for employers across the globe to fill is the skilled trades. This rings especially true in Wisconsin, where we are looking at the demand increasing over 18% in the next several years.

As the economy continues to improve construction activity is picking up from the pent up demand during the recession, creating thousands of jobs in the skilled trades. However, there are not enough people to fill these spots. One reason is the recession. Some workers in the trades were forced into other careers or unemployment, never re-entering the workforce. The second reason, and one that we can address, is fewer workers are entering the skilled trades and baby boomers are retiring at a higher pace.

So, what can we do about it?

We need to change the perception on taking up a career in the trades. Most think that a traditional, four-year college degree is the only way to ensure a successful career providing a competitive salary and professional growth. But, just as a career in the trades isn’t for everyone, a four-year degree, with the debt that piles up along with it, isn’t for everyone either.

Some associate a career in the trades as a grungy, unappreciated, low-paying, dead-end job with little to no room for professional growth. These people couldn’t be any more wrong.

A career in the trades can be one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever have. Not only do they offer competitive salaries and outstanding benefits, they also provide a sense of pride. You have an opportunity to contribute to an industry that creates structures that will last for generations to come and serve some of the most critical functions in our country – healthcare, education, government and commerce.

JP Cullen is fighting this battle to show the millennials and Gen Zers that a career in the trades is a bright one not to be overlooked. Our Apprenticeship Committee, compromised of trade professionals who have all completed an apprenticeship, heads up this effort. They are committed to building partnerships with area schools to help share our passion for the skilled trades with students by speaking with construction classes, inviting them to our job sites for first look tours of construction and also attract the top students the districts has to offer.

This committee organized and hosted our first annual Construction Career Fair at our Janesville headquarters yesterday. Students from throughout the Rock, Walworth and Southern Dane Counties participated in the event to learn more about the opportunities in the construction industry through mock-ups and hands-on demonstrations, as well as the opportunity to speak individually with apprenticeship recruiters from the local building trades unions.

Over the last decade or so, high school students have been pushed toward four-year degrees. How many of us have heard either our own parents or someone else’s threaten their children with “you need to get your college degree so you don’t have to work as hard as I had to”. While their intentions were certainly in the right place, getting a four-year college degree isn’t the only way to be successful. An apprenticeship is also post-secondary education, with the main differences being: earning a paycheck while you are learning, receiving most of your training on the job and meeting your career goals without student loan debt.

If you or someone you know may be interested in a career in the trades, you can learn more by visiting the Department of Workforce Development or contacting Joe Schwengels,

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July 17, 2024