I just finished up a story for the February issue on getting young workers — aka millennials — involved in the skilled trades and pursuing areas like HVAC construction and ductwork fabrication, so since it’s only December I have some time to think about what I learned during my research.
I was thankful for being connected with two sheet metal apprentices — Eric Slone and Catie Rogers — from Indiana’s Sheet Metal Workers Local 20 who each had their own story to tell.
Slone, a 30-year-old who is finishing up his last semester of his apprenticeship, graduated from a four-year college with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education, but he faced a discouraging obstacle: finding a well-paying job in his field. In Slone’s case, it was as if his job applications were disappearing the second he submitted them with no response — good or bad — from potential employers.
Rogers, a 24-year-old who is the only woman in her apprenticeship program at Local 20’s Indianapolis location, was first exposed to the sheet metal industry in high school when she took welding as an elective and quickly jumped on the opportunity to expand her skills and earn a living wage as an apprentice.
While their paths to the skilled trades varied, they both had at least one thing in common: friends or family members who worked in sheet metal. According to a report by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute on the public’s view of manufacturing, those familiar with manufacturing are two times as likely to encourage a child to pursue manufacturing.
I could relate to Slone’s story quite a bit, seeing as I also attended a four-year college straight out of high school. Despite my field’s uneasy outlook, I’ve never doubted my place in journalism, but as a millennial I can absolutely relate to the heavy weight of student loan debt and the growing uncertainty of whether you made the right choice.
Unlike Rogers’ high school experience, I was never exposed to the skilled trades. Science and mathematics, sure, but your options upon graduation were crystal clear: community college or a four-year university.
According to the perception report, Americans generally view manufacturing as a strong sector, but they’re reluctant to choose careers in the industry. Ninety percent of Americans believe manufacturing is very important to economic prosperity, the report stated, but only 1 out of 3 parents would encourage their children to pursue a career in manufacturing for reasons like job security and stability, and believing that the industry has limited career prospects.
Those findings, though discouraging, offer a good place for the industry to start working to zero in on those perceptions and engage with students and their parents to show them firsthand how the industry is changing and the opportunities that are available.