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Since we launched Surehand in July 2018, we’ve engaged with thousands of stakeholders across the industrial sector—workers, employers, industry organizations and others.

While our focus remains steady on revolutionizing how industrial employers, employment opportunities and skilled tradespeople find one another, we’re taking on an adjacent challenge associated with the industrial talent pipeline: it’s in danger of drying up.

The skilled trades shortage is here now and it’s getting more acute each day. Per latest research estimates, there are 10 million unfilled manufacturing jobs globally—with 3 million skilled trades openings projected in the U.S. alone by 2030—representing $2.5 trillion in economic impact.

One of the biggest factors driving the shortage is the mass retirement of workers in the Baby Boomer generation. Boomers—people born between 1946 and 1964—are employed in fields like construction, manufacturing and engineering in much higher proportions than their younger counterparts.

The median age of construction workers is 42, a number that’s increasing over time. Various industry sources indicate the mid-to-upper 40’s as the median age for machinists, heavy equipment operators and NDT (Nondestructive Testing) technicians. For welders it’s 55!

(In comparison, the median age of information security analysts is 38, while for software developers it’s 27.)

The demographic shift above has been largely fueled by a relentless push toward four-year college degrees as the “preferred” path for high school graduates. Over the last 20 years, there’s been an abundance of research citing college diplomas as a surefire ticket to higher earnings and lower unemployment, even though the attitudes of (and outcomes for) people who hold those degrees are mixed.

There’s nothing wrong with obtaining a college degree, and for many Americans it proves to be a good investment in time and money. For me—given my early interests and ambitions—it was the right path. But college isn’t a guarantee of personal or professional fulfillment, by default. It’s simply not best-fit for everyone.

The decades-old narrative that has undervalued vocational training and apprenticeship—combined with a lack of awareness of the trades career paths at the middle and high school levels—has resulted in fewer and fewer entrants into once-vibrant trades professions. Compounding the issue, women and minorities continue to be significantly underrepresented in the skilled trades workforce across all heavy industries, as well as in high school studies concentration.

According to numbers from the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), 10,000 electricians retire from the field each year, but only 7,000 new workers join it. For welders, the figures are even more daunting. One estimate from the American Welding Society (AWS) predicts we’ll see a shortage of 400,000 welders by 2024—that’s the size of the population of the entire city of Tulsa, Oklahoma!

For workers, we’re in the midst of a period of unprecedented opportunity to break into the skilled trades and have your pick of high-quality jobs. For employers, it means the playing field will likely remain highly competitive to win the best workers for many years to come.

As part of Surehand’s unwavering commitment to reducing industrial labor shortages and underemployment in the skilled trades, we are proud to announce the Rock the Trades™ workforce development initiative—dedicated to celebrating the American industrial worker, raising awareness of the skilled trades as a fulfilling career path and enabling those who choose to embark upon it.

A “Big Tent” Opportunity

Our vision for the initiative centers on three main objectives:

  • Honoring the men and women working as skilled tradespeople in the industrial sector and their daily commitment and craftsmanship;
  • Informing middle and high school students, GED holders, college graduates, military veterans and mid-career professionals about the skilled trades and how to start a career in them; and
  • Empowering those who choose to embark on a career in the trades through scholarships and other awareness and enablement programs.

While there are many programs already doing great things to attack this issue at the national, state and local levels, such initiatives often end up siloed—centered on specific regions, industries, trades, communities or cohorts. Those critical programs need to keep doing the good, hard work they’re doing. Our focus is on uniting and amplifying their efforts through a rallying cry that can resonate across all of them: Rock the Trades!

While Surehand is providing initial funding and support to stand up the initiative, our goal is for Rock the Trades to evolve into a grassroots, “big tent” movement—with broad participation from partners across the industrial sector—brands; employers; labor unions; industry organizations; training providers; government entities; influencers and other key stakeholders who all share in the imperative for a revitalized talent pipeline in the skilled trades.

The industrial labor shortage challenge is not an easy one to tackle—by driving a “cult of possibility” together, we can dramatically expand our reach and accelerate our progress.

Blue-collar households across America have long understood the fulfillment from and value of a career in the trades—passing that appreciation down, generation after generation. We aim to crank up the volume of that positive reinforcement and encouragement with a diverse, “all-collar” mindset—breaking down barriers for anyone who wants to go after a career in the skilled trades.

When we see more white-collar families on social media, wildly celebrating one of their own pursuing a life in the trades, we’ll know we’re making progress for the long haul.

An Unstoppable Force

To kick things off in truly epic fashion, we’re thrilled to announce that we’ve partnered up with internationally-acclaimed metal sculptor and skilled trades advocate Barbie The Welder to serve as an ambassador for our mission. A welder by trade for 14 years and sculptor for the past 8, Barbie is a fierce advocate for the skilled trades and her brothers and sisters currently building, operating and maintaining the world around us.

Over the next few months, she will design, create and reveal a one-of-a-kind, metal art sculpture that reflects what the skilled industrial trades means to her and the tradesmen and -women in the energy, manufacturing and construction sectors.

If you’re not already following the force of nature that is Barbie, pick your preferred platform below and follow her and our Rock the Trades project, wire to wire. We want to hear from you!

Rock out with Barbie the Welder on:

We’re just getting rolling, so there will be more exciting announcements to come in the weeks and months ahead. To stay plugged in, just sign up below and receive updates on our programs and progress.

Barbie The Welder photo credit: Keegan Beard

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