Business Matters: Demand for Skilled Trades Workers
At a recent trades expo titled “Construct Tomorrow” at Cooper High School, Rachel Wiener helped students peer into the future.
“So what do you think about doing for a career?” Wiener asked one student.
For Wiener, it was her family who inspired her to try carpentry.
“When I was older, a teenager, I knew i wanted to do something to get my hand’s dirty, didn’t really wanting to be sitting in an office at all,” she said.
Wiener is in her third year as an apprentice pursuing a career that she feels more women should consider. She currently works installing cabinets and countertops at schools and colleges. One of her jobs included a science lab at the University of Minnesota.
“Unfortunately, there’s not enough women in my opinion here,” she said. “But the men treat you really good if you struggle with something. They’re there to help you, lift you right up.”
Work Isn’t Easy, But Also Fulfilling
Wiener is an outlier in a field that not only needs more female workers, but trades workers period.
“All crafts here today are struggling to find young people to take on this industry,” said Scott Panek, assistant executive director of training with the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters.
One reason is the work isn’t easy.
“People don’t understand they’re going to have to go to work when it’s 10-below zero outside or if it’s raining. Or if it’s muddy at job site. Or if it’s 90 degrees outside,” said Panek.
But Panek says the work can also be fulfilling with good pay and benefits.
“It’s created a lifestyle for my family,” said Panek. “The pension that I’ve established for myself over the past 25 years is huge. I’ve had health care for my family. Been able to send my three children through college.”
For carpenters beginning to train, pay starts out at $18 an hour. That adds up to more than $30,000 in year one. Plus, there’s health care and retirement benefits. The other perk, says Panek: no college debt.
“We’re allowing young people to come in and get quality education at no cost,” he said. “We’re teaching them to be young professionals on a job site. To be safe on a job site.”
The Electrician Experience Dilemma
Not all trades jobs are created equal. For Derrick Atkins, who trains electricians, it’s not a shortage of workers that’s the problem.
“We have a lot of baby boomers who are set to retire,” said Atkins, with the nonprofit Minneapolis Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee. “We have a lot of applicants that try to get into our program. Our problem is going to be getting them trained basically to replace that person with 40 years of experience.”
Atkins says his trade is growing due to solar jobs. He points to a trio of nuclear plants in Minnesota set to go offline between 2030 and 2034. Solar energy would replace all that power production.
“Solar is a very cheap way of producing electricity and all that work would be done by electricians,” said Atkins. “And there’s going to be a lot of that work that’s going to be coming.”