In July 2015, the Round Rock Chamber published a comprehensive workforce development strategy for Round Rock. The multi-year roadmap details how the community can work together to ensure an ample talent pool via four tactics: replenishing skilled professions; implementing accelerated learning opportunities for skilled professions; increasing direct-to-college participation; and supporting ancillary service capabilities. Two of the four recommendations aim to significantly increase the number of skilled professionals in our community because we have a critical shortage in this area.1 Further, the critical shortage of skilled tradespersons is being exacerbated by continued historic low unemployment rates (2.3% in April 2019) and several other factors: the aging workforce, an insufficient pipeline, and the stigma associated with these professions.
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median age of forty for workers in the construction industry, industry experts provide a very different picture. 2 In fact, a plumbing inspector for the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners recently reported that the average age of master plumbers and plumbing inspectors in the State of Texas is 58. 3
Yet another barrier that the trades industries must contend with is the fact that the talent pipeline for the trades industries via the traditional public education system vocational education programs has been crippled for several decades. In a 2013 Forbes magazine article, Nicholas Wyman poignantly wrote that “[j]ust a few decades ago, our public education system provided ample opportunities for young people to learn about careers in manufacturing and other vocational trades.” 4 He then writes about the ‘college-for-everyone’ mentality and how it “has pushed awareness of other possible career paths to the margins.”
Those changes in philosophy translated into fewer federal funds for public school vocational programs, so programs were significantly reduced and/or eliminated altogether. As a result, and over the last several decades, students in public schools, in general, have not been exposed to trade professions and viable career in the trades. This is significantly impacting the severe workforce shortage in the trades. The tide is changing, albeit slowly, and society is acknowledging the importance of career and technical education (CTE) once again. Today, Texas public schools, including our own Round Rock Independent School District, offer rigorous CTE curricula that work to prepare students “for further education and careers in current or emerging professions.” 5
In a recent episode of NPR’s All Things Considered, they reminded listeners that vocational education was the pathway for low-income and minority students some decades ago.6 While that is no longer the case, the stigma associated skilled professions remains a strong force and efforts must continue to change the negative perceptions of these viable career options. The Round Rock Chamber believes that by focusing our efforts on changing the negative perception of skilled professions that we can and will impact the number youth and young adults that learn about and explore skilled professions as a viable career choice and even better if they can explore these career options with support from their parents/guardians. We understand it is a tall order and, yet, we also understand that if we do not address the root of the problem, then systemic change will be that much harder to achieve. For more information about skilled trades professions, visit our website here.
1 “Workforce Realization Occurring Cooperatively, a comprehensive workforce development strategy for Round Rock, Texas” (Round Rock Chamber, June 2015) https://roundrockchamber.org/community-enhancement/talent-development/workforce-development-strategy/ (June 11, 2019).
2 “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey” (United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 19, 2018) https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11b.htm (August 14, 2018)
3 “Plumbing Pipeline Academy Promotional Video” (Plumbing Pipeline Academy, 2014) http://www.plumbingpipelineacademy.com/about-us/ (August 14, 2018)
4 Nicholas Wyman, “Why We Desperately Need to Bring Back Vocational Training in Schools” (Forbes, September 1, 2015) https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicholaswyman/2015/09/01/why-we-desperately-need-to-bring-back-vocational-training-in-schools/#5e65e18a87ad (August 13, 2018)
5 “Career and Technical Education” (Texas Education Agency, 2017-2018) https://tea.texas.gov/cte/ (August 15, 2018)
6 Ashley Gross, Jon Marcus, “High-Paying Trade Jobs Sit Empty, While High School Grads Line Up For University” (NPRed, All Things Considered, April 25, 2018) https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/04/25/605092520/high-paying-trade-jobs-sit-empty-while-high-school-grads-line-up-for-university (June 8, 2018)