America has a longstanding reputation built around hardworking men and women in blue collar jobs. Industries like construction, farming, manufacturing, maintenance, transportation and related services are part of the country’s identity, and those industries continue today to provide a wealth of job opportunities. The problem is, right now there aren’t enough blue collar workers to fill those jobs. Many companies that are poised for expansion have been hampered by the current blue collar worker shortage.
As Baby Boomers retire, they’re leaving behind openings in the blue collar employment market. But the members of younger generations have been much more likely to go to college, earn a bachelor’s degree and then enter the employment market in search of white collar jobs instead. So the existing Baby Boomers’ jobs go unfilled.
Compounding those factors is the rapid expansion of the economy in general since the 2007-2008 Financial Crisis, with industries like construction and material transportation growing even faster than others. Construction job openings are set to increase by 12 percent through 2026. But where will you find the workers for those positions?
If your company operates within these blue collar industries, then you no doubt already know how difficult it is to find workers. Right now employers everywhere will be fighting over a shrinking pool of candidates, but there are some things you can do to help find (or create) blue collar workers, and to position your company as an appealing place to work.
Recruit veterans. America’s Armed Services go hand-in-hand with the country’s blue collar tradition, and as people leave the military, they’re in search of quality, consistent work. Network with military organizations, let veterans know about the opportunities available in your company, and word will spread. A veteran-friendly reputation will put you in touch with quality workers well into the future, too. Veterans make up a talented, hard-working job pool for any industry.
Partner with vocational schools and trade organizations in your community. Many high school graduates today still plan on some form of education before entering the job market. Vocational schools especially want to be relevant to today’s market needs, and trade organizations exist to put workers in touch with employers. By partnering with vocational schools, you can develop specialized educational programs specifically suited for the jobs you have available. You’ll be creating a direct pipeline from high school to a position with your company, while also creating an educational program that provides real-world skills.
Create an apprenticeship program. If your company has the resources, apprenticeships are a great alternative to outsourcing your training to a vocational school. In addition to job- and company-specific education, apprenticeships allow the candidate and the company to ease into a relationship rather than committing outright (a particularly intimidating prospect for younger generations).
Look beyond salary. Younger workers are sometimes lured away from blue collar work by short-term incentives, like higher hourly wage, but with no benefits package or long-term career plan. As a blue collar employer, make sure your candidates are thinking long-term and understand how important health insurance, retirement funding, and other employee benefits are to their future happiness.
Invest in the message and spread the word. Historically, the appeal of blue collar work can be found in its long-term consistency: steady paychecks and reliable employment. The image of a blue collar worker isn’t the same as it was 60 or 70 years ago, and public education efforts can demonstrate the real advantages of 21st-century blue collar work. At a time when younger generations feel uncertain about their future, blue collar jobs can be offered as a comforting answer. The key is to make sure your marketing reaches the intended audience, and then you can work on welcoming this new generation of workers into your company’s culture.