Momma, don’t let your babies grow up to be Cowboys. Steer them to the Trades instead.

Talentsorter StaffJob Seekers

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It’s funny how things sometimes happen in threes.

It was unintentional, but last month kept throwing me things that definitely came together in a consistent theme. It was a little like the universe was saying ‘hey dummy, you need to pay attention to this’.

I’m honestly not sure what to do with it, so I’m sharing it with you in the hope that maybe you or someone you know can point me in the right direction.

This whole ‘trilogy’ of events began when I shared a short, 40-second video clip with my friends. I didn’t intend for it to be a big deal; more than anything it was a thought-provoker that presented the sharp contrast between job training in America vs. Germany:

  • More than half of all Germans receive vocational training to be Chefs, Electricians, Carpenters and Welders. Germany has one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the world.
  • In America, there is immense social pressure to attend college/university, but nearly 40% of those who start never graduate. At the same time, companies can’t find qualified workers to fill trade jobs – nearly 2 million will go unfilled in the next decade.

That the post got me a couple of comments back wasn’t a surprise. What got my attention was the sheer number of comments – dozens, from people across the US and Canada, and as far away as Australia. The theme clearly struck a chord – an emotional one – with a lot of folks in a lot of places, who see a system badly in need of repair.

The second event in the trilogy was a conversation I had with a gentleman who owns a chain of 43 auto-body shops. ‘Repair, not restoration’, I learned; apparently fixing rust isn’t profitable and gums up the production line, so he leaves that to the other guys. Nick showed me around his shop – it was gorgeous. Clean, warm, well lit, all the best in equipment and surroundings. You could eat off the floors.

Nick’s biggest pain point? He can’t get enough Techs. He prefers to hire them young and train his own from the ground up. The working conditions are spectacular; it’s basically Monday to Friday with a little overtime if things get backed up after a snowstorm but no weekends; and the average Tech earns in the range of $100K plus benefits and whatever. And this man can’t find a willing apprentice?!?

The third and final installment came at an event I attended. The breakfast speaker was Tom Murad from Siemens Canada. I learned a lot of things about Siemens that I didn’t know, but I was really interested in Tom’s title: Head of Siemens Canada Engineering & Technical Academy (‘SCETA’). The fact that the head of their training academy reports directly to the CEO speaks volumes about both the Siemens culture and the strategic importance they place on securing a steady flow of talent.

There’s a lot more detail at their website if you’re interested… but the key elements that got my attention are that Siemens begins their recruitment efforts early, in the local high schools:

  • They look for students who have an active interest/curiosity in science, engineering or technology. So they pay close attention to kids in the robotics club, for example, or who compete in science fairs.
  • Students selected for the program are paid. Their ‘job’ is to learn a set occupational curriculum and then apply that knowledge in a work setting. They are also assigned teachers and mentors who guide their development.
  • They stay on the payroll through university, continuing to learn and work with Siemens (and Siemens covers a chunk of their tuition)
  • Then they are guaranteed a job upon graduation, with a big jump on their careers compared to their peers graduating with them.

It’s a brilliant program.

And yet, in a lot of ways it’s very old-fashioned, not unlike the Guilds and the Apprenticeship models that have been around for generations – and have somehow fallen out of favor in the ‘New World’.

As you can likely tell. I’ve been ruminating a little over this trilogy of themed events, and here’s what’s occurring to me:

1. In North America (at least), there is a lot of pressure on our youth to go to College/University. Part of the pressure comes from parental expectations, perceived or real. Certainly there’s a strong societal value placed on ‘higher education’ as well, and I’m not too sure the value/quality of the guidance system in the schools. I know a number of young adults from my kids’ cohort who were steered to university and now, after years of pain and a number of false starts at different schools and majors, are now in trades as a ‘last resort’ – and loving it.

2. Too many of these kids are studying in programs where there will never be jobs for them… leaving us with a legion of highly educated, un- or under-employed people either barely scraping by or living in their parents’ basement (or both).

3. Skill shortages are a persistent problem in the labor market. The high number of skilled trades people who will be retiring within the next decade will only make the problem worse. This has serious implications in terms of labor market productivity, growth and competitiveness at home and abroad.

4. Employers are faced with no option but to import skilled workers from overseas, while our highly educated kids are pursuing jobs that will never exist.

5. The companies that are going to survive the impending skills shortage are those who get really good at ‘growing their own’ – but that takes courage, time and commitment from the very top.

Anyone got a clue what I’m supposed to do with this?

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