In the 21st century, more people pursue higher education in order to build successful careers in prominent industries. Millions of young students envisage the life of a lawyer, finance expert, or a doctor. In many cases, such aspirations are conditioned by a combination of strong factors. First of all, prominent careers are associated with better income and improved quality of life. In reality, of Introduction course, such heights are usually available to a small percentage of people involved in the industry. Second, today’s society is keen on establishing trends that prompt the population to make specific, “fashionable” decisions.
Younger generations remain particularly susceptible to the influence of such trends, often opting for unfavorable yet trending avenues of development. Amid these tendencies, the public interest in skilled trades has been depleted in the United States. Such a situation can be considered a pressing nationwide concern, as the demand for skilled trades within communities persists whereas the number of workers engaged in them is on a stable decrease. The purpose of this paper is to investigate this situation, assessing the underlying factors and outlining feasible solutions to the issue.
Background of the Issue
There has been a stable decrease in people interested in skilled trades, namely among younger generations. In this regard, such industries, as plumbing and carpentry, risk facing a serious shortage of workers that can provide communities with the required quality of services. Toppin has researched the issue in terms of its scope and scale in the labor market of the United States (64). According to his findings, the magnitude of the situation is considerable, pushing the market toward strongly negative outcomes. More specifically, the U.S. continues to experience an observable shortage of skilled trades workers which throws the labor market out of balance.
The geographical distribution of available specialists is equally uneven, as wealthier states lack such workers to a higher degree. Toppin also suggests that the shortage is conditioned by the lack of fresh blood in these industries. Finally, Edmund mentions the inevitable crisis of skilled trades that looms on the horizon (10). In other words, skilled trades workers who eventually retire do not appear to have younger substitutions. In the mid term, this issue is bound to become a nationwide crisis unless serious measures are taken.
Under these circumstances, the labor market of the United States will see further decrease in the number of skilled trades workers. Figure 1 represents the current age distribution in the comparison between skilled trades and all jobs. As can be inferred from these infographics, younger workers opt for mainstream occupations, showing little interest in skilled trades. For older age brackets, the situation becomes different, showing a higher percentage of skilled trades workers who near retirement.
Evidently, as this inevitable retirement occurs in the near future, the shortage is to become more serious, as younger replacements do not appear available. Figure 2 outlines the primary occupations which are to be most affected by the persistent age gap within skilled trades in the United States. Unless the matter at hand is urgently addressed, its repercussions may have a strong, lasting impact on the functioning and well-being of American society.
Root Factors of the Issue
One of the critical factors that contribute to the emergence and development of the situation consist of the lack of public interest in skilled trades. Moreover, these positions appear to lack the attention of younger candidates who may form the core of these areas in the long term. Therefore, most interventions are to focus on the public and youth engagement, promoting skilled trades as a potential area of personal and professional development. However, these interventions are expected to be evidence-based and informed in order to attain the maximum level of efficacy. In this regard, it is vital to acquire a better understanding of the profound issues that instil such a situation in the first plays. In other words, the key to feasible solution lies in the root factors of the problem.
First of all, the prevailing paradigm of the capitalist society has put earning money on top of the priority pedestal. In the current environment, most people are concerned with accumulating their wealth and improving the quality of life in a finance-driven world. In this regard, the better appeal of colleges and corresponding professions can be explained through the lens of income. Toppin states that the level of pay in many spheres of skilled trades in inadequate, creating an overly negative public image of the field (71). In addition, a system dynamics-based investigation by Kim et al. revealed that insufficient wages become one of the keys to skilled labor shortage (para. 1).
Simmons et al. observe a shift the work values between different generations, stating that younger people emphasize the role of monetary rewards (para. 1). Accordingly, as long as skilled trades are associated with poorer income, they are of little interest for the ambitious youth. Moreover, such workers will often prefer distant prospects of resounding success in college degree-based professions, such as finance and law. Therefore, financial opportunities become the primary factor that contributes to the development of the issue.
The Lack of Prestige
At the same time, money is only of the facets of the complex issue that surrounds the image of skilled trades in the current environment. In fact, there is another component to it that consists of the position’s prestige. A pursuit of respect is another trend of the contemporary world, in which people naturally want to have a good reputation and image in the eyes of others. In this context, skilled trades are in a poorer position as compared to other professions. For example, a prominent corporate lawyer in an expensive suit would be seen as more prestigious than a carpenter in his work robe. Or, a renowned surgeon will have a better public reputation than a person who works as an electrician.
On a deeper level, the issue of prestige is inseparable from financial matters. In fact, in today’s world a person who earns much money also earns more respect. In a way, this tendency may be connected to the prevalent nature of social media and the corresponding desire to share only the most pleasant aspects of a person’s life with the followers (Jacobson et al.). Inspired by the examples of rich people and celebrities, many individuals aim at expensive purchases and luxury lifestyle (Eckhardt and Bardhi 88). In their views, such an outcome would be impossible without a respectable degree-based career.
Furthermore, the life of a skilled trades worker may not be equally appealing in terms of the social media content. Evidently, the issues of image and prestige are rather profound in regard to this issue, which is to be considered by proposed interventions. However, it may take some considerable time to redefine the public image of skilled trades and their perceived prestige.
Inequality and Stereotyping in Skilled Trades
As discussed in the previous sections, the area of skilled trades remains highly inconsistent in terms of workers’ age. In fact, the majority of them represent at least middle-aged categories and higher. The practical experience suggests that older adults are more subject to conservating reasoning and archaic views in regards to the societal relations. More specifically, people of this group are more likely to demonstrate profound biases in regard to specific categories. For example, the area of skilled trades retains a serious level of gender disparities today. According to Bridges et al., women account for only “1–3% of this workforce in Western nations” (894).
Accordingly, the industry of skilled trades is dominated by older male workers, which creates another barrier for younger women interested in it (Wagner 69). Bridges et al. state that this professional area has failed to eradicate the aggressive masculine culture, contributing to the unfavorable image of the industry. Such an environment has also developed unregulated employment practices that often disregard the possibility of a woman joining the sphere. Because of these factors, women candidates opt for other professions, as they feel more secure in different spheres.
At the same time, biases and prejudices of the skilled trades community account for another case of severe disparities. More specifically, Rowan and Rubin observe serious racial inequality in the skilled trades in the United States (10). As per their findings, this tendency stems from earlier period of the American history that has left its mark on the current relations within society. Aged and conservative core of the skilled trades workers is perceived to create a hostile environment for young people of color, thus preventing another part of the population from pursuing such a career.
Under these circumstances, younger generations rarely view skilled trades as a viable career path in the modern world. Instead, for many of them, this option is associated with failure and becomes the last resort in case the preferred careers fail. Accordingly, the vast majority of the nation’s population sees college enrollment as the best route toward adulthood and career. However, there are alternatives to this path that can help a person become fully integrated in society (Chakravarty et al. 71).
For example, there exists a great number of vocational schools and apprenticeships that help people learn practical skills and start earning money in a short period. For example, the Urban Institute informs that apprenticeship programs are mutually beneficial, helping young people acquire valuable work skills, while allowing employers to train their human resources (1). Moreover, about 93% of apprentices shortly gain full-time employment, start earning their own money and make contributions to the business. The same can be said in regard to vocational schools that enabler a shorter start in terms of earning money.
At the same time, there is another alternative that is based on the practical observations. As controversial as it may be, it consists of opting out of any education after high school. For many people, the necessity of pursuing a degree is imposed either by family or by society. In the current environment, a person without formal education is often stigmatized and deemed incomplete. Therefore, parents often pressure their children into going to college despite the latter’s beliefs and expectations.
Some people are simply not interested in a degree, especially if it is obtained solely for the sake of having one. However, as pressured by their environment, such individuals are forced to spend years of college education they do not actually need. Ultimately, they feel obliged to pursue a career for which they studied so that they do not feel as if they wasted their time. Overall, some people may not need formal higher education at all, as skilled trades can be learned and utilized quickly during specialized courses or even self-taught.
Based on the previous discussion, the situation with skilled trades in the United States remains alarming. Fewer people are interested in pursuing such careers, which is especially true for younger generations. These people opt for college degrees and professional areas that are associated with higher levels of perceived wealth and prestige. In fact, unless the situation is addressed in an urgent manner on nationwide level, it can become an actual emergency due to the continuous labor shortage. The previous sections outlined the primary factors which have instilled the current situation and promoted its spread across the country. As such, this information is to be considered within the framework of promising interventions.
In fact, the proposed solutions are to be based on these root problems, addressing the underlying issues that prevent skilled trades from becoming attractive for younger generations. These avenues of improvement are united by the overarching theme of feasibility, meaning that these solutions can be implemented in the short-to-mid term without major transformations and expenditures.
Online Promotion of Skilled Trades
First of all, it is strongly advised to utilize the immense capacity of the Internet in the contemporary world. More specifically, social media networks currently wield the power to determine the ongoing trends and shape public opinions, especially within a younger audience. In this regard, the government can establish a nationwide initiative with an objective of promoting skilled trades among social media users.
For example, it is possible to enlist prominent influencers with large follower bases and have them motivate people to pursue skilled trades and alternatives to formal colleges. The point of such campaigns will be to amend the issues of image and prestige that determine the position of skilled trades today. In fact, through these means, the initiative will reverse the impact of the instrument that undermined the position of skilled trades in the first place. Millions of users of social media will see more favorable representations of skilled trades on the Internet. As a result, the stigmatization of these jobs will be at least partly alleviated, as they become normalized and appraised by society. This initiative will not require major resources, but its potential is colossal.
The next proposal has the potential to address another key aspect of skilled trades shortage in the U.S. labor market. Corporate apprenticeships will take the discussion from the online environment into the physical one, adding a tangible dimension to it. More specifically, most businesses, from local shops to corporate giants, retain the need for skilled hands. Carpenters, electricians, and maintenance technicians are needed across various facilities, factories, and units. In this regard, different business operating in the United States can join this nationwide initiative to create apprenticeship vacancies for those who need it.
While the core of the target audience is to comprise younger people, the program can be open to a broader range of people, such as handicapped individuals, ex-convicts, and families in need. The purpose of the program is to provide organized apprenticeships, during which people will learn the required skills and companies will benefit from motivated workers’ contributions. Next, the participants will have good opportunities of becoming full-time skilled trade workers at these companies, securing their positions within society. The initiative is mutually beneficial, equally addressing the problem of unemployment and providing young people with a chance to start earning money earlier in life.
Public Image Work
The third initiative is more global in nature, as it addresses more profound issues that surround skilled trades in the United States. The public image work will require a certain degree of political engagement on various levels. This intervention is more generalized, as well, as it may comprise a series of smaller tactical moves to promote skilled trades across the country. One of the key overarching objectives is to improve the image of such jobs in the eyes of the public. First of all, younger and older people should not feel ashamed or insecure if they decide to pursue such a career. Second, they should have sufficient opportunities for this purpose in the form of the available and affordable vocational education and courses.
Next, employment processes need to be improved so that the candidates feel secure and sure of their own future. Finally, it is essential to send a strong political message to communities in order to eradicate the stigma placed upon skilled trades. Students should not be pressured into pursuing a college degree they do not want just for the alleged prestige. Instead, skilled trades should be normalized and promoted as a perfectly viable choice of career.
Overall, the labor market of the United States currently experiences a serious shortage of skilled trades workers. Such a situation is conditioned by the fact that current specialists are nearing or entering the age of retirement. At the same time, younger generations do not appear eager to replace them, opting for college degrees and other careers. As the research shows, skilled trades are heavily stigmatized by the contemporary society. In the age of social media, personal wealth and successful careers in specific industries become glamorized. As a result, millions of young people pursue distant prospects of alleged success that is never guaranteed.
In other cases, potential candidates for skilled trades positions become pressured into obtaining a degree and working in industries they may not be interested in simply because society values prestige. Therefore, feasible short-term interventions are to address the issue of the public image in order to attract more people to the skilled trades industries. They are to utilize an array of modern instruments, including social media as one of the primary determinants of the public thought. Through the combined efforts on social, corporate, and political levels, the country may be able to overcome the current problems and avert a crisis of labor.
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