If there were ever a time for young women and men to enter the skills trade, it's now. Over the next decade, this country is going to be busy building — not only building big, complicated projects such as bridges and tunnels but also semiconductor chip factories, battery plants and charging stations — and we'll need skilled trade professionals to see these projects through.
But currently, we're facing a shortage of over 300,000 skilled tradespeople — a labor shortage that could cost the United States approximately $83 billion. This is expected to only increase as the number of workers retiring continues outpacing the number of workers entering the skilled trades.
Young people should know that for first time in recent history, significant government spending is being directed toward much-needed upgrades to our country's aging infrastructure. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is expected to create close to 1 million skilled trade jobs, set to pick up in late 2023 and peak in 2025.
Two more bills last year — the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act — add an additional $500 billion in incentives, grants and subsidies for energy and manufacturing projects in the United States. Onshoring has brought a tailwind of construction activity with more than $1.8 trillion in megaprojects — or projects with an investment greater than $400 million — announced since the start of 2021. This is a construction boom the likes of which we have never seen.
Coupled with the fact that we are still underbuilt by 2 million to 4 million homes and our housing supply is aging, new residential construction and RMI activity are expected to pick up over the next few years and join the building boom.
To fill these jobs, we need to focus on the construction of the talent pipeline, but the industry is facing outdated perceptions that need to be shifted. Misconceptions include that these jobs are old-fashioned, not well paid or only for men. The reality is that the skilled trades offer those with an entrepreneurial spirit the opportunity to own a business, and they provide financial stability and the ability to work with cutting-edge technology, especially at this moment in time. People entering the industry can forge their own path based on their unique interests — bringing together, for example, welding skills and artificial intelligence to create solutions to meet building demands across the U.S.
These are the conversations we need to be having — both across the industry and at our own kitchen tables — to ensure that young people entering the workforce understand that the skilled trades are a viable career option, and trade schools and apprenticeship programs are just as rewarding — and lucrative — as a college degree in terms of career success. We know that solutions are better constructed together than alone.
As a society, it's time to reevaluate our definition of a "good education" and a "good job." Success is not always defined by a college diploma. We need to develop a K-12 pipeline that introduces, cultivates and reinforces skilled trades opportunities throughout primary and secondary education. We need well-intentioned parents and guidance counselors to advocate for career and technical programs just as much as a college degree. We need industries that employ the skilled trades to offer more upskilling and workforce-training programs to lessen the learning curve for tradesmen and tradeswomen.
And to those who are considering a job in the skilled trades, America needs you right now.
Kevin Murphy is the CEO of Ferguson, a Newport News-based plumbing and HVAC supplies company with 1,720 locations across North America. Contact Murphy at email@example.com.