In the past few years, our industry has started to face a new challenge — a shortage of qualified job applicants. While the Recession ended several years ago, many Americans are still unemployed because they lack necessary skills. As a result, vital industry positions sit vacant.
In a recent survey, 86 percent of construction firms reported trouble filling available positions last year, and 93 percent of employers now cite hiring challenges as a barrier to growth in the coming year. The most difficult positions to fill both nationally and globally are in skilled trades.
The shortage stems from both the demand and supply sides of the labor market. On the demand side, an aging workforce means there are more open positions for installers, creating demand for workers. Surveys suggest that 31 million skilled trade positions will be left vacant by 2020 due to retirements. On the supply side, more and more high school graduates are choosing to pursue a college degree, and far fewer are choosing to enter the trades.
The message is being sounded in Washington D.C. as several wood product associations are lobbying for the Carl Perkins Act to be reinstated. The Carl Perkins Career and Technical Education Act was developed to increase the quality of tech education in order to help the economy. The funding for this Act has been significantly cut and associations such as Advance CTE, an organization that represents state directors and leaders responsible for secondary, postsecondary, and adult Career Technical Education (CTE) across all 50 states and U.S. territories, have been advocating for the funding to be reinstated to its previous levels. The NWFA along with other wood product industry associations have been supportive of these efforts.
NWFA is currently working on several initiatives that are designed to help address the skilled labor shortage in our industry:
- NWFA University (NWFAU) combined with digital badging. The NWFA launched NWFAU in July 2016. Since launching NWFA University, the association has seen staggering engagement: more than 8,000 courses have been completed, and more than 4,000 badges have been issued in partnership with Credly, a digital credentialing platform that ensures that credentials are valid, reliable, and authenticated. Digital badging will help with brand awareness as they are shared on social media sites, thus providing visibility to a younger, tech-savvy, social generation.
- Higher levels of certification. NWFA will be launching higher levels of certification at Expo in April. These higher levels will allow certified professionals to continue their education and become a Certified Craftsman and Certified Master Craftsman. These advanced certifications provide our members with a clear path to becoming a leader in their trade and opportunities for growth, which has proven to be of importance to the Millennial generation.
- Federal Department of Labor (DOL) approved apprenticeship program. NWFA is currently in the draft stages of developing a Federal DOL-approved apprenticeship program. Once complete, NWFA will create a grassroots campaign to push the program to high schools, CTE centers, member companies, and more.
- Local CTE Center job fair. In April, NWFA will have a booth at the Lewis and Clark Community College Job Fair in St. Charles, Missouri for CTE students. The NWFA team’s goal will be to learn from this event and build a toolkit that members can use in their own marketplace. The NWFA team also hopes this will provide an opportunity to market the apprenticeship program pending its development status in April.
- National Affiliate member of the Association for Career & Technical Education. NWFA will participate in a Career Pavilion at the annual Association for Career & Technical Education show in December 2017. The show brings 5,000 CTE professionals together from across the county. Membership also will grow connections and introductions to CTE centers across the country and can be used as an audience for an apprenticeship program.
- SkillsUSA event. NWFA will attend a SkillsUSA event in June to observe and work to create a wood flooring competition. The process for establishing a wood competition includes starting with a local event. SkillsUSA will measure success to see if it warrants a grander stage at the regional and national level.
- Manufacturing Day. NWFA is currently working with Middle Tennessee Lumber to participate in Manufacturing Day in October 2017. The team is working to build a tool kit that members can take into markets/communities across the country. Manufacturing Day is a national initiative; details can be found at mfgday.com.
Efforts to interest the younger generation in careers in the wood flooring industry must also come from our members, including the suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and others whose companies will be able to grow successfully in the coming decades if there is a pool of applicants from which to draw.
The following are some suggestions that you can implement to help the cause:
- Make your voice heard at the local level. Develop a relationship with your area’s government representatives and don’t be shy about letting them know what your company contributes to the local economy in terms of jobs and projects. Supply them with a clear “ask” to support CTE in schools. Also, share your needs when it comes to filling positions. NWFA has resources available at nwfa.org. To find your local representatives, visit House.gov and Senate.gov.
- Get involved with SkillsUSA. SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers, and industries working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. SkillsUSA helps each student excel. It provides educational programs, events, and competitions that support CTE in the nation’s classrooms. Learn more at SkillsUSA.org.
- Partner with a local high school, community college or technical school. Lend your expertise and guidance in curriculum development, internships, or invite a teacher in during the summer for a crash course in industry-related training and technology that they can bring back to the classroom. Use the Hardwood Forest Foundation’s “Truth About Trees” program to present in elementary schools about trees, forestry, and conservation. Learn more at hardwoodforest.org/truth-about-trees.
- Volunteer with NWFA to be a member company that will accept apprentices. NWFA is currently looking for volunteer companies that will hire apprentices to help NWFA develop best practices and build a toolkit for other members to use.
- Donate to the NWFA Education and Research Foundation (NERF) Scholarship Program. This program was established to help educate future generations of wood flooring professionals, and you can participate by contributing to fund scholarships. There are three different scholarship funds, each with different contribution levels. Learn more at nwfa.org/scholarships.
- Provide a career path for your employees using NWFA University and hands-on classes to pursue certification. Become involved in NWFA schools as a way to mentor the next generation of wood flooring professionals and help ensure their expertise lives on through them.
Marian Wright Edelman once said, “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily difference we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.” Every action taken, regardless of how small, adds up over time. Uniting as an industry can make a tremendous impact.
Learn more about the above initiatives by visiting nwfa.org or calling 800.422.4556.
Stephanie Owen is Education Director at the National Wood Flooring Association in St. Louis. She can be reached at email@example.com.