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Building the labor force


WORLD Radio - Building the labor force

Enrollment in trades programs rises as demand increases

Photo courtesy of ABC National

LINDSAY MAST, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: the next generation of workers in the trades.

Maybe you’ve experienced something like this: a pipe bursts, water pouring from the ceiling. You call the plumber. He can get to you in a few days. Another one can’t get there any sooner.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And it’s not just plumbers. Around a half million job openings exist in the construction trades right now. That’s according to Associated Builders and Contractors.

Now, trade school enrollment has been slowly rising over the past few years. But is it enough? WORLD Radio’s Mary Muncy has the story.


MARY MUNCY: About nine students are prepping boards to frame a floor at Blue Ridge Community College in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

OMAR RECINDIZ: It's something that I've enjoyed since I was in high school.

Omar Recendiz has been in construction for about five years. He’s in Blue Ridge’s construction trades apprenticeship program to expand his hands-on and management skills.

RECINDIZ: I didn't know what to do when I was maybe in 10th grade. But my senior year, I knew that working in construction, woodwork, carpentry, or any of that was the path that I wanted to take, because I saw this is beneficial to me and to others. So it was a win win.

Recendiz is part of a growing number of students choosing trade school over what’s become the norm—a four-year university degree.

The National Student Clearing House reports two-year degree enrollment in construction trades, precision production, and mechanic and repair technology is up about 12 percent from five years ago. But while enrollment is on the rise, the need for skilled tradesmen is rising even faster.

Greg Sizemore is a Vice President for Associated Builders and Contractors. He says the number of skilled workers is dropping because many Baby Boomers are retiring, and they wanted the best for their kids.

GREG SIZEMORE: If you think about the end of World War Two, and when those individuals came back from overseas, the one thing that they really wanted to do is say that my kid will do better than I did, whatever that looks like.

Often that looked like a college degree.

SIZEMORE: And here we are five decades later. And quite frankly, we're still singing that same tune.

So as Baby Boomers retire from skilled trades work, they often don’t have a replacement. And to add the growing number of openings, the Biden administration last summer said its Inflation Reduction Act created about 170,000 thousand “clean energy” jobs so far… and many of those jobs are for skilled trades workers.

SIZEMORE: It's testing an already strained system.

Sizemore says it makes sense for parents to be wary of the trades. Sometimes these jobs are dangerous and it’s real, often dirty work.

But the industry has changed over the years… Many jobs could still be featured on shows like Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe or categorized as slinging a sledgehammer. But those jobs often also require high-tech equipment and expertise, and some aren’t even that dirty.

Sizemore says there’s also a misconception that trades jobs are for people who don’t have what it takes to do white collar work. But most trades jobs take a lot of on-the-job training, trade school, or a college degree.

SIZEMORE: These people are brilliant human beings that have learned a lot about building things, building things safely and that kind of thing. And so there has to be a light shined on that opportunity.

Sizemore says shining that light will start with expanding high school’s goals from just college readiness, to career readiness. He wants to show kids early on that the trades are viable careers with opportunities for growth and corner offices, just like many other jobs that require a college degree.


At Blue Ridge Community College, Devin Teofilak likes working with his hands, but that’s not the only reason he started working construction.

DEVIN TEOFILAK: I saw, like my parents come up in construction, and you know, probably work from the bottom and make it to the top. And you know, you can have a really good life. It's a career. It is what it is.

The trades aren’t for everyone and we still need doctors, lawyers, scientists, and teachers. But Sizemore says there’s something special about building and fixing things, and there’s plenty of space for new recruits.

SIZEMORE: So at the end of the day, yes, there is a stigma out there that it's tough, it's hard, it's hot, it could be cold, it's going to be all those things. But it's the most fulfilling, rewarding experience that anybody has ever seen when they walk into a place where nothing existed, and they walk out of there, and there's this thing that is built that is supposed to last in perpetuity forever.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Mary Muncy in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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