Through 2028, more than three million trade skills jobs will sit vacant, the result of a rapidly depleting pipeline of skilled trade workers. This gap – between the jobs that exist and the demand for jobs that don’t – is thanks in part to a generation of expertise facing retirement, but also because students today aren’t considering a career in trade skills the way their grandparents did.
That skills gap is creating a backlog of building and repair projects and a swell of homeowners whose home improvement projects are on hold. In fact, more than 60 percent of skilled trade professionals confirm a shortage of labor in the construction industry – and before that gap can be narrowed, perceptions must change.
Lowe’s and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) collaborated recently to help change the future of trade skills in America by introducing high school students to the industry via a skilled trades immersion, which exposes students to various trades and potential paid high-school internships with Lowe’s partner installation companies.
“Society is beginning to realize success isn’t framed by a college degree,” said Mike Mitchell, director of Trade Skills for Lowe’s. “We need to debunk the myth that trade skills are only for students who don’t see college in their future. The truth is, trade skills are a high-growth pathway to economic mobility, financial stability and independence – and as a home improvement retailer, Lowe’s is invested in building that pipeline of skilled trade entrepreneurs and crafters.”
Susan E. Gann, director of Technical Education for CMS, has dedicated her career to creating pathways for students after high school graduation. “Students have exciting options that build wealth but do not always require a four-year degree,” she said. “It’s important for parents and students to do their research on what their employment goals are and then examine the best pathway to achieve that goal.”
Gann and Mitchell, a member of CMS’s Career & Technical Education (CTE) District Advisory team, began to brainstorm. “We said, ‘What would an immersion [in trade skills] look like?’” Gann said. The result was a daylong event introducing 65 high school students from four CMS schools to trade skills ranging from tiling to flooring, appliance repair and carpentry.
To spark imagination and keep teens’ attention, Lowe’s program included hands-on demonstrations from local skilled tradespeople like Billy Miller, Operations Manager for Service Pros Installation Group in Charlotte. Miller’s team performed demonstrations on ceramic tile installation and how to nail down hardwood floors.
“Our interaction with the students was phenomenal!” Miller said. “They were engaged, … asked great questions and appeared to really enjoy the hands-on application portion. We had several questions regarding the financial benefits of the industry as well as how to get started in the trade.”
Donna Self, who owns Lakeside Heating & Air Conditioning, got her start in HVAC through a part-time job in college. “I realized the potential in a secure and profitable career in the HVAC industry, so I gained knowledge from the part time job and opened my own business,” she said. Connecting with teenagers 34 years later meant paying that message forward for Self.
“[I was surprised by] how little students know about the variety of jobs in the HVAC trade,” she said. “They were amazed at the salary potential.”
Garinger High School senior Kendra Miller attended the immersion day, which she expected to be another “boring” field trip. “My mind quickly changed within the first few minutes,” she said. “[T]hey informed us about different careers within the industry and we experienced some of them.”
“We need more people that work in the labor field as the world keeps changing and growing,” Miller added. “[Trade skills] jobs will always be here.”“I love doing the different activities or stations because they open my eyes up to parts of the world I see on TV.”—Kendra Miller
Fellow senior Justin Funchess described the experience as “more than I expected and more hands on than I thought. It was honestly very fun and something that I will always remember … [the trade skills immersion] TEACHES you skills, rather than watching from a distance or on a video.”
Billy Miller of Service Pros Installation Group had advice for students considering a career in trade skills: “This industry gives you an opportunity to improve an individual’s home. Always perform the quality of work that you would want done in your own home. Almost anyone can lay down a floor but only a professional who takes pride in themselves and their work can be successful in this trade.”
Check out this highlight reel from the day’s events!