ANALYSIS: ‘Massive shortage’ in trade professionals was inevitable

Applications to vocational jobs dropped by 49% in 2022. The US Chamber of Commerce predicts a 'massive shortage of skilled workers' in 2023.

Generation Z is generally weaker than previous generations due to a confluence of social media, victimhood ideology, and poor parenting, Jonathan Haidt argues.

The ominous warnings of a void in trade professionals are finally coming to fruition.

Application rates to technical jobs that require vocational training dropped by 49% in 2022 compared to 2020, according to data from Handshake obtained by NPR. The US Chamber of Commerce in their 2023 economic projections predicts a “massive shortage of skilled workers.” 

Traditional trades, however, can provide good-paying, stable paths for income. Employment data from recruitment board Indeed indicates that the national average hourly rate for carpenters is $23, with more experienced carpenters earning upwards of $34 per hour. Automotive technicians can earn between $25 and $70 per hour and plumbers can earn more than $90,000 per year.

Despite these high salaries, data from Handshake shows job postings for trades received only 5 applications per post compared to the 19 applications per post for white-collar positions, as NPR notes.

While the effects of this blue-collar crisis are becoming more apparent in today’s job market, experts have been sounding the alarm for years.

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Mike Rowe, former host of the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” has long been a supporter of elevating vocational education. In February 2017, Rowe testified before the United States House of Representatives to advocate for an increase in funding for technical and vocational training.

Addressing the vocational skills gap in today’s job applicants, Body Shop Business reports that Rowe told Congress, “When we took shop class out of high school, we sent an unmistakable message to an entire generation of students…that a whole category of jobs was simply not desirable. Is it any wonder those are the very jobs that go begging today?”

But the devaluation of the vocational arts is not just a social prioritization problem. It’s also connected to the characteristics of young people entering the workforce.

As Campus Reform has previously covered, New York University professor and public intellectual Jonathan Haidt argues that Generation Z is generally weaker than previous generations due to a confluence of social media, victimhood ideology, and poor parenting.

Particularly blaming the perfectionism and unrealistic standards perpetuated by social media, Haidt observes that “when you look at Americans born after 1995, what you find is that they have extraordinarily high rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicide and fragility.”

Applying these generational characteristics to the workplace, Haidt notes that managers find “that it’s very difficult to supervise their Gen-Z employees [and] give them feedback.” This makes career advancement difficult, especially for demanding blue-collar fields.

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In other words, the scarcity of competent technical professionals is the result of raising a fragile generation that has been both dissuaded from and denied access to vital vocational and technical training.

There is a growing movement to re-emphasize trade schools and community colleges to diversify options for students.

Campus Reform’s Higher Education Fellow Nicholas Giordano contends that “community college is a better and more viable alternative for many” because it provides the opportunity to experiment with a variety of career options at a significantly lower cost than 4-year institutions – and with less woke indoctrination.

Rowe agrees, arguing that the 4-year institution model depends upon “lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to educate them for jobs that don’t exist anymore….Bad idea.”

Now that the market is experiencing the full effects of the trade workers shortfall, maybe we’ll start taking vocational and technical training seriously in 2023.

Follow Gabrielle M. Etzel on Twitter. 


Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.