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Workforce Development: Mechanical Trades In Trouble

Workforce Development: Mechanical Trades in Trouble

Regarding workforce development, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, “the unemployment rate decreased by 0.2 percentage point to 4.5 percent in March [2017], and the number of unemployed persons declined by 326,000 to 7.2 million. Both measures were down over the year. Employment in construction has been trending up since late last summer, largely among specialty contractors and in residential building.”

Declining unemployment and rising employment are positive economic indicators.  But in the mechanical trades (HVAC, plumbing, pipefitting, welding, etc.) a workforce shortage could make job opportunities and economic growth a moot issue.  How will the our industry fill jobs in the coming years?

My own workforce development observations, while speaking at conferences and teaching college classes, indicate a growing partnership between educators and the companies who hire graduates.

Trade school and community college advisory boards partner with local contractors to gain more synergy and to ensure that graduates are trained and equipped to meet the industry’s needs.

Employment in construction has been trending up since late last summer, largely among specialty contractors and in residential building.

My company published a workforce development report entitled: What Contractors are Really Saying About Trade Schools.  More than 200 contractors were surveyed for this report.  You may download and print your own copy.

Service companies (plumbing, heating, electrical, refrigeration and air conditioning) were invited to participate in this survey to assess the value added by trade schools where technicians generally learn their skills.

Service company identities were kept secure and the information collected was for reporting purposes only.

The inception of this workforce development report was a need for hard facts to help dispel the anecdotal remarks among industry professionals.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, “the unemployment rate decreased by 0.2 percentage point to 4.5 percent in March

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Workforce Development

Having worked with and taught at numerous schools and colleges nationwide, I witness the hard work, passion and dedication that instructors invest in their students.

No doubt, college instructors put their heart and soul into their student’s best interest.

The hope was that a workforce development report and list of remarks, from a few hundred contractors, would benefit the industry as a whole in enhancing workforce development.

Workforce Development
Workforce Development

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Steve Coscia

The road from professional musician to thirty-year customer service veteran to best-selling author and speaker is not a typical career path, but Steve Coscia may have started a new trend.

Coscia is one of the most widely published and quoted authorities in the customer service industry. He has published more than 200 articles, four books and a series of training DVDs. His college curriculum is taught at institutions of higher learning throughout the United States and Canada.

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. Steve,
    There are many good suggestions here from the contractors surveyed, and many valid complaints as well.
    Like anything in life there are two sides to this coin. I would like to see a survey done of trade schools dealing with the input/involvement of the local contractors. How many of them that are “involved” with a trade school are actually active in their programs vs. how many show up occasionally to a program advisory council meeting. How many will take the time to guest lecture or provide a lab demonstration, how many will just stop by and talk to students one on one about what they should expect in the field. How many are willing to accept ride-along or intern students to help provide them with the real word experience that they say they want. How many will donate equipment and supplies that they want new hires to be familiar with.
    As Program Director of an HVAC program I receive calls quite often from employers that claim that they want to “partner’ with our school. When I ask what that means to them they explain that means they want to hire our “best” graduates.
    When I explain that to me Partnership means that they will be willing to take some roll in assisting to train the students, they seem to lose interest very quickly.
    Maybe it is time for the contractors to stop complaining about the problems and become part of the solution to help make things better for everyone involved.

    David Greth CMHE

  2. Great article! I agree with Mr. Greth that contractors should be willing to help. But consider another view. Our local community college will lose funding if the “pass rate” is not kept to a certain level. Therefore, all they require is a body to show up to receive a certificate in order to maintain funding. I have personally witnessed students without a clue turned lose into the contracting world with a certificate or degree that says they are capable of doing the work. So for this, we would like to blame the educator. But let’s dig deeper!
    As contractors fight for every job that’s out there they must have bodies to do the work. So when they see an applicant with papers, bingo- they are hired and put in a truck. This new guy, armed with tools, sunglasses, GPS on a smart phone and cigarettes rolled up in their sleeve, are sent out to do a supposedly professional job. They can almost smell the fat roll of money their instructor told them they would make.
    But then things begin to go bad. They don’t know how to conduct themselves in front of a customer. They don’t know how to troubleshoot. They don’t know how to repair. All of a sudden this job is not what it’s cracked up to be. Crawling under a wet, funky smelling floor, and hot attics, listening to all the verbal abuse from the homeowner and the boss; maybe mom was right, I should have been a computer tech or history teacher.
    Fast forward a few months and he or she is working part time at a big name store or restaurant until they can save enough money to go back school, which rarely ever happens.
    So who’s fault is it that this tech didn’t work out?
    Was it the board of the college who allows substandard teaching?
    Was it the contractor who doesn’t have training systems in place and allows substandard work practices?
    Was it the consumer who shops around to buy from the lowest priced contractor with no considerations for quality?
    Was it the inspectors who allow the contractors to get away with substandard work?
    Was it the student who didn’t do his homework before deciding what field to enter then choosing a school that truly turns out technicians even if it mean you have to travel away from home?
    We, the older generation, must be willing to help obtain then maintain new workers in this field if we want to see it survive as we knew it. It doesn’t pay much in dollars but your rewards are unmatched as you see your work in others. Hopefully we have worked wisely enough that we are able to make this happen.
    Maybe it’s time we changed to a different field. It’s simply called “Helping Others”. If you do not feel comfortable doing it yourself, hire Steve! He has a proven track record.
    Thank you again Steve for posting this article and I appreciate what you do for our industry.
    David Allen

    1. Good comments, David. Thanks for the insight. Your leadership example is an inspiration to many. Including me.

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