New Industry Coalition Aims to Close Skilled Trades Gap

Leaders of 17 industry organizations recently gathered for the first meeting of the newly founded Skilled Trades Coalition. Photo courtesy of American Welding Society.

One of the hardest workforce segments for employers to find talent has been skilled trades—the welders, electricians, machine tool operators, pipefitters, and others who are essential in manufacturing and construction. But if these workers are difficult to find now, in a few years, this could become even more problematic. According to the American Welding Society (AWS) (Miami, Florida, USA), an estimated 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled by 2025.

In response to the rising shortage, leaders of 17 industry organizations—including NACE International (Houston, Texas, USA)—gathered recently at AWS headquarters in Miami for the first meeting of the newly founded Skilled Trades Coalition (STC).

“Over the last several years of my career, I have been hearing a common theme from multiple industries, which is the growing deficit in access to qualified skilled workers,” says AWS Executive Director and CEO Matt Miller. “We began reaching out to our counterparts at other technical associations and discovered that the challenge we’re having with attracting workers to welding is mirrored in many other trades, so we put together a charter to see if we could engage other groups to elevate the conversation around the skilled trades.”

The STC’s mission is to bring together thought leaders who are shaping the future of work in their respective trades to explore awareness, recruitment, training, and retention of workers. Coalition participants are able to interact, share information and gain consensus on key topics, detail best practices and identify common challenges, brainstorm, collaborate on awareness of the employment gap, and combine resources to accelerate problem solving.

The coalition utilized panel-based sessions with several manufacturing industry experts brought in to explore questions related to the skills gap. Central in the discussion was development of strategies to draw more workers to skilled trades, dispel myths, and influence public perceptions. Data demonstrated that while employment and job openings in the trades are growing, the industry is not meeting the supply and demand of skilled workers. Thus, there is an urgency to attract young people to the workforce.

Negative connotations and stereotypes of trade workers have contributed to the problem by discouraging young people from pursuing trade careers, AWS says. “The changes that have been occurring in our pre-professional education system have contributed greatly to the skilled workforce shortage problem,” says Bob Chalker, CEO of NACE International. “Over the years, we have put a focus on the value of a college education, while at the same time devalued the career opportunities of the skilled trades, discouraging people from entering these fields.”

According to AWS, half of high-school graduates who attend college drop out. However, the educational system has failed to engage these students and help them enter alternative postsecondary programs. Those who do graduate may not find employment requiring a four-year degree. Meanwhile, many well-paid manufacturing jobs remain unfilled.

As such, the coalition strives to eradicate common misconceptions. Key strategies from the coalition include targeting women, minorities, and young people (researching key influencers); investing in resources to craft a message and get it out to the public (television commercials, social media); investing in a central location for resources; building on and leveraging existing programs; and engaging other groups working in the same space.

Over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed. To address this, the 17 partners are focusing on areas of initiative, coalition governance, data mining, marketing campaigns, stakeholders, and funding. Executive sponsors have volunteered to helm the projects, with assistance from one or two groups.

“Each of the organizations in the coalition are doing something to promote the value of a profession in the skilled trades, but as individual groups, with limited resources, we can only accomplish so much,” Chalker says. “Together, combining our efforts and resources, we can amplify our impact. I see the most important role we can play is to reestablish the skilled trades as a long-term, secure career for young men and women in the formative years while they are making career decisions.”

The American Institute for Steel Construction (AISC) will host the second in-person STC meeting on September 5-6, 2019, in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Source: AWS,