Some toddlers can operate smartphone technology with ease, while some millennials can barely change a light bulb. There are many reasons for this decline of mechanical aptitude in recent generations. Some industries, such as masonry, woodworking, and related fields, have been hard hit by the current lack of skilled craftsmen. How did we get here? But more importantly, how do we move forward?
The General Decline of Skilled Craftsmen
A notable lack of skilled craftsmen is evident in construction industries today.
This phenomena did not occur suddenly, but rather as a massive shift resulting from three major influences:
School districts in the majority of states have cut vocational programming. Woodworking, shop, and other necessary foundational courses are presently unavailable at the middle and high school levels. Whether this was due to lack of funding or lack of participation, the effect has been widespread.
As curriculum changes move toward a technical track with a heavy focus on advanced math, science, and technology, the message becomes clear. The general acceptance that degrees are worth more than practical knowledge comes from widely held societal perceptions.
Society in general seems to be divided into two groups. They can typically be labeled as rural vs. urban or as white collar vs. blue collar. The bottom line is that each group fails to fully value the position of the other.
This often begins in the home, especially when hard working blue collar families steer their children toward college rather than vocational fields. Parents and other family members frequently have input about career options for young adults. Their best interests for the child often stem from their own desires to have had the opportunity to take a different path in life. Over the past few generations, they have gently persuaded children toward more ‘professional careers.’ The general thought behind this was that white collar workers had more opportunity for success than builders, welders, or construction workers. Such thinking has left a major gap in the availability of skilled workers.
Few business sectors are affected by the economy in the same way as real estate and related construction. Residential and commercial development practically came to a complete stop during past recession, which we also saw at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The construction industry ebbs and flows like any other business, but has been known to sometimes take slightly longer to rebound.
Inspiring a New Generation of Skilled Craftsmen
Despite the aforementioned challenges, it is still possible to resurrect the artisan spirit. If there is hope to inspire a new generation of skilled craftsmen, a multi-step approach must be followed. These layered actions will not only spark renewed interest in the trades, but will also encourage a sense of pride in the products of skilled handiwork.
Develop and Nurture Talent
Developing the necessary skill set is the obvious first step to becoming a true artisan. You can begin to identify and develop these hidden talents through mentorship programs. Formal education classes are also important, as they introduce important concepts such as technical knowledge, machine operation, and industry vocabulary. But the hands-on experience of shadowing with an expert is irreplaceable.
A four-year degree is no longer necessary to secure a financial future and an admirable career. Skilled artisans can be trained in alternative education methods. Vocational and technical training programs prepare students for a lucrative career in as little as nine months in some cases. Continued training under a master in the field contributes to the hands on knowledge of beginners.
As more opportunities become available through mentoring programs, vacancies will be filled with fast-learning men and women in a variety of important fields.
Discredit Negative Stereotypes
This generation must be molded into a new way of thinking in order to achieve their ultimate measure of success. Ideas such as diversity and inclusion are commonplace, so the concept of skilled labor should be an easy point of acceptance.
The stigma associated with so-called blue collar workers must be removed before a new generation will be truly inspired to participate in artisan crafts. One way to discredit the unwanted stereotype is to showcase the hard work of craftsmen across many different skill sets. Home and garden shows, real estate sites, and remodeling shows are among the easiest and most effective ways to change the perception of skilled workers.
Millennials in particular are an interesting and complex group of individuals. One way to reach them is through avenues such as empowerment programs. This generation wants to be heard and understood, and they want to do something that they believe makes a difference.
More independent entrepreneurs have been created during the millennial generation than any other. These young people are empowered to do something new, to create art, to leave a unique footprint. They are natural born builders, and have started the ‘makers movement’ in an effort to implement change. Harnessing the power of this movement is an easy way to gain support from this powerful generation.
Young people hold the key to unlocking the return of quality craftsmanship, but we all share the responsibility to encourage them to use that key and inspire a change in thinking, behavior, and building. What part will you play in this change?