Nearly 1 in 4 construction workers are over the age of 55 and are nearing retirement. These workers are a vital part of our global communities and economies; they build the places where we live, work and play. The need to replenish the pipeline has never been more important. When we consider the consequences of a decreasing skilled workforce, the need to attract young workers to these fields is a matter of urgency.
According to 2023 U.S. projections, construction firms must attract an estimated 546,000 workers in addition to their normal staffing to meet labor demands. The Current Employment in Construction Report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also found that construction continued to trend upward in July 2023, adding an average 17,000 jobs per month over the prior 12 months. It’s evident the field is growing, and we need more people to fill these roles.
How do we help fuel a youthful pipeline of talent? To help answer this question, we first need to understand the issues impeding that pipeline. The 2023 3M State of Science Index – a global, third-party research study that delves into how people view a range of science-related topics – explored the barriers that impact entry to the skilled trades, including fields like construction. By identifying these barriers, the hope is that it will help the industry dismantle them.
3M research reveals there is a stigma and image problem associated with skilled trades that is deterring people from entering these vital careers. To strengthen the future of trade careers, we must address that stigma, shift the narrative, and start to re-shape the image of working in the field.
The Image Problem Impacting Skilled Trade Careers
According to the 2023 3M State of Science Index, 87% of Americans believe if the image of skilled trade careers improved, more people would pursue them.
According to the 2023 3M State of Science Index, nearly 9 in 10 Americans (87%) believe if the image of skilled trade careers improved, more people would pursue them.
It’s clear a misperception exists around skilled trade careers and it is creating a barrier for introducing more professionals to these imperative careers. As part of this misperception, skilled trade careers are not seen as being “as important” as other careers, and stereotypes depict tradespeople as uneducated, even though that’s far from the truth.
While the solution is complex, we can inspire, educate, and encourage tomorrow’s young workers to consider the trades as a viable path toward personal and professional fulfillment.
Research tells us that young people are eager to work in worthy careers, and skilled trades provide respectable and societally vital careers that contribute to the economy and our infrastructure and can have a direct impact on our future quality of life.
The good news is that the public recognizes this, universally. The 2023 3M State of Science Index found that 90% of Americans understand there is a consequence if we cannot find a solution to the shortage of skilled trade workers.
But the solution is more than just breaking down the stigma associated with skilled trades. We must also educate students around the spectrum of career paths and opportunities available in the trades, the specialized skillsets required of tradespeople, the potential earnings – and even the path to small business ownership.
Championing Skilled Trade Careers & Stories
To help raise awareness, inspire, and educate the public about the opportunities available in the trades, 3M produced and released Skilled, a docu-series that aims to dispel misperceptions and showcase diverse and meaningful trade careers. Based on insights from the 3M State of Science Index, Skilled sparks a conversation about the modern realities of the skilled trades and what may be preventing more people from pursuing these vital careers. The film highlights four tradespeople across industries at various stages in their careers. These stories include:
- Paige Knowles, a 19-year-old plumber and author of the children’s book “Plumber Paige” inspired by her own experiences
- Andrea Martin, a safety and fall protection specialist who was named one of the 2022 Top Women in Safety by Canadian Occupational Safety
- Anni Martinez, a Mexico-based gaffer specializing in lighting design who is part of Amazonas Electricas, an all-female team bringing diversity to Mexico's film industry
- Cedric Smith, a welder who attributes getting certified to restoring his hope and allowing him a second chance at life
By highlighting the diversity and breadth of trade careers, the series helps demonstrate how tomorrow's workforce can find personal fulfillment and professional success along their respective journeys. Moreso, we are also helping to create a workforce that will drive our economy and society forward. Skilled shows what it means to be a skilled trade worker and how people can overcome the stigma of what it means to work in a skilled trade career.
The hard work doesn't end. We need to continue championing the stories of trade workers. Without them, we cannot create awareness of the beneficial aspects of working in the skilled trades, nor shift the stigma that is depleting tomorrow’s talent pipeline.