Apr 24, 2024 - News

Local Gen Z workers are turning to the trades

Illustration of pipes against a background of tile in an upward trend like and a hand with a pipe wrench

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

America's skilled trades — from plumbing to welding to construction — need more workers as boomers retire. Gen Zers are stepping up to fill the gaps.

The big picture: Enrollment in vocational programs and applications for trade jobs are ticking up as younger people look to start their careers without the sky-high cost of a four-year college degree.

  • "We're finally seeing a more than subtle change within our society," says Robb Sommerfeld, co-founder of the National Center for Craftsmanship, which provides vocational training at high schools, among other services. "More and more students and their parents see alternatives."

By the numbers: Enrollment in vocational programs jumped 16% last year, according to National Student Clearinghouse.

Zoom in: The number of apprenticeships in Ohio are up 69% since 2014 and up 2% over last year, according to ApprenticeOhio, the arm of Ohio's Department of Jobs and Family Services that connects companies to workers.

  • Ohio currently ranks third nationally for the number of apprentices and first in the Midwest.

What they're saying: Kaci Roach, the director of strategic initiatives at New Growth Group and the executive director of HHW Ohio (formerly Hard Hatted Women), confirmed that she has seen increased interest in the trades among young people in Cleveland.

Reality check: The labor shortage for technical jobs isn't over.

  • The construction industry alone faces a gap of a half-million workers. Many more plumbers, electricians and other skilled workers have retired over the past few years than have been trained to take their places.

Flashback: The number of students entering four-year colleges spiked following the 2008 recession as millennials waited out a rough job market and loaded up on student debt.

Yes, but: In the current red-hot labor market, particularly in the trades, many Gen Zers are making the opposite calculation.

The bottom line: Help is on the way, but worker shortages in the trades won't be solved overnight.

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