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Make Work Cool Again

Tell stories of successful skilled tradespeople to create awareness and fight misconceptions around the trades

One of the silver linings of the pandemic-related travel restrictions is the ability to attend myriad conferences and events virtually. Although the coronavirus is indelibly shaping the industry, the events of late aren’t hyper-focused on how to deal with the pandemic anymore. Rather, the industry appears to be evolving to a space where we can resume business and conversations as normal, addressing COVID only when it directly affects a given area.

Labor is one such example. Although the skilled labor shortage is a long-discussed topic, it’s a conversation happening with renewed vigor, particularly as companies are experiencing record-high business and feeling the labor shortage more acutely as they struggle to keep up with demand.

The International Builders’ Show virtual experience in February delivered robust educational programming, including keynote speaker Mike Rowe, of “Dirty Jobs” fame. Long an advocate for encouraging the trades, Rowe developed the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, which evolved from a public relations campaign to a current-day scholarship program. To date, it’s facilitated and granted more than $5 million worth of scholarships to more than 1,000 recipients across 48 states.

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Rowe focused on the skills gap during his address and, specifically, reaching younger people. He estimates 50 percent of the workforce will need to be replaced within a decade, with 40 percent of aging out and another 10 percent leaving. “Growth potential is unlimited,” he says.

“I don’t believe in good jobs vs. bad jobs. All work is noble,” Rowe says. He went on to discuss how the push to attain a four-year college degree came at the expense of skilled trades and that as a society we are tasked with giving trade schools and apprenticeship programs equal weight to a four-year degree.

One of the biggest things we can do to close the skills gap, he purports, is creatively and persuasively tell stories of success around the trades to change the messaging and attitude around work. “The challenge is to make work cool again and get rid of language that describes the four-year degree as higher education and everything else as alternative. If a kid is unaware of opportunities, they’ll never see what’s possible and therefore not consider it,” he says.

“If we do a better job presenting examples of men and women who are prospering today as a direct result of mastering the skill, sooner or later that will become overwhelming,” he says. “You’re fighting against stigmas, stereotypes, misconceptions and myths. People want to be challenged. Don’t be afraid to say you’ll work hard and it won’t always be pleasant, but if you stick with it and apply yourself, here’s a path to prosperity. You can train anybody who's willing to learn. In that sense it's not a skills gap; it's a wills gap. And that's a scary thing.”

Construction Stats

Residential Construction Employment 

Residential construction employment increased by 37,000 in March, surpassing the pre-pandemic levels from February 2020. About 518,000 residential construction jobs were created in the past 11 months, offsetting the 471,800 residential construction jobs lost in March and April of 2020 and February 2021. Source: NAHB Now


Home Building and Job Generation

Building 1,000 average single-family homes creates 2,900 full-time jobs and generates $110.96 million in taxes and fees for all levels of government. And, $10 million in remodeling expenditures creates 75 jobs and nearly $3 million in taxes. Source: NAHB National Impact of Home Building and Remodeling report


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Laurie Cowin

Laurie Cowin is editor of Window + Door. Contact her at