Exploring The Skilled Trades

How America Forgot The Skilled Trades

Jason Burns
Sr Content Strategist

Posted 04/20/2019

Reality only seems absurd when it becomes history. 

You probably don't know that many careers in the residential and commercial construction industry are growing in leaps and bounds. And you've probably never heard that many of those jobs earn more than $100,000 a year. If you find that surprising, then you might find it hard to believe that 31 million Americans feel they have no career path or see no future in their current job. 

What's more? According to the Associated General Contractors of America, 75 percent of the contractors in the U.S. want to hire more employees in 2018. And the sad fact is that there are more jobs available than skilled tradespeople to fill them. 

This job gap is what Generation T is about: shining a light on the path to these high-growth jobs. 

You know those movie flashbacks where the narrator hops, skips and jumps through time to explain the movie plot? We are going to do that here to show just how and why so many Americans have come to overlook some of the career opportunities most likely to shape the American workforce over the next decade.  



The Federal Family Education Loan program, known for ensuring student loans nationally for aspiring college students, was enacted in 1965 through the Higher Education Act. While providing opportunities for 60 million plus Americans, it also shifted the national focus toward four-year universities as the singular path to gainful employment.


By 1975, school districts throughout the U.S. had established a new standard for success: college enrollment, not job readiness. Meanwhile, unions were losing power to legislation that limited their negotiating powers. 


Pop culture in the 1980s glorified white-collar work. Movies like Wall Street, Boiler Room, Risky Business and Trading Places showcased the thrill and pursuit of wealth as the stock market roared through the decade, due mainly to deregulation of banks and economic policies favoring the financial sector. 


The birth of the internet created digital commerce channels for retail and media. Meanwhile, focus on technology deprioritized traditional vocational training programs like home economics and shop class. These programs were phased out to make room for computer labs, leaving an entire generation under the impression that manual skills were unimportant. 


This turbulent decade saw the most significant housing boom and bust in history, followed by the biggest recession in a generation. With the housing market flat and layoffs right and left, even parents who worked in construction discouraged their children from pursuing careers in the trades. This followed a trend already set in place-- 70% of construction workers polled in a 2000 Clemson University study said they didn't want their children to follow in their career footsteps. 


Rising from the ashes of the worst housing crisis in American history, a profound and perplexing picture has emerged in the American workforce: low unemployment, but severe shortages in skilled trades, manufacturing, trucking and nearly any form of repair. According to Lowe’s Home Improvement’s strategic workforce planning team, more than 3 million jobs in the skilled trades will become available through 2028.

The growing demand and waning supply mean that these jobs now command higher and higher pay. 

Telling people (particularly high school students) about these opportunities isn't enough. With almost 9 in 10 teenagers saying they have access to smartphones, and many aspiring to the fast-growing e gaming market (if you’re not familiar, there are professional video game athletes) shows that current cultural aspirations are not grounded in the reality of where the economy is headed.

More people need to hear this story: the demand for skilled tradespeople is growing parallel to the spike in jobs in healthcare, manufacturing, and even cybersecurity. 

Your Next Steps

Your career in the skilled trades career can begin with a pre-apprenticeship at your local community college, directly with an installation company that brings you on as a helper, or with Lowe’s Home Improvement, who will pay for you to get your pre-apprenticeship in several high-growth fields. Click here to start.

It should be clear to see that there are high-growth, high potential opportunities all around you. If you aren't interested in a career in the trades, someone you know probably is. Tell that someone the truth by sharing this site-- click the icon below.