Bridging the American Skilled Workforce Labor Gap
Two and a half years ago, I traded in my suit and tie for a hard hat and steel-toed boots. This has proven to be one of the top two best career decisions I’ve ever made. However, let me not fail to mention that this epic career move was accompanied by a $20K pay cut.
It sounds egregious, I know. But as you pick your jaw up off of the floor, let me explain why this was the best educational investment I’ve made. I’ll also explain why America can solve its skilled worker shortage with on-the-job-training (OJT) programs targeting students. As well as, folks considering a career transition like myself.
In 2005, I graduated from a prestigious liberal arts college in Los Angeles, California where I spent 4.5 years playing football. While earning a degree in Sociology, I racked up $60K in student loan debt. Over the next decade, I worked in multiple revenue generating client service roles for companies. All of which offered little to no professional development outside the immediate scope of the job.
My yearly salary for my first job as a management trainee for a rental car company was around $40K. My second job as an education consultant paid about $45K yearly. The salary for my third job as an online market research project manager was roughly $50K per year. While my last corporate job as a staffing account manager was salary plus commission, and I made about $67K yearly.
I Wish I Had Known About OJT Programs in High School
It took almost 10 years for me to achieve an annual salary that equaled my total student loan debt. However, by this time the interest had driven that $60K student loan debt up closer to $80K. Even in the face of a moderately-aggressive repayment plan.
In 2017 I was making $67K yearly, but miserably meandering through my career like a moonstruck sheep. I knew there was a huge need for good construction managers. On average, construction superintendents make $80K – $100K per year and project managers make $90K – $120K per year. As a result of staffing construction managers, I gleaned a thorough understanding of the job functions for these roles.
I realized that my professional skill set translates really well to construction management. I could be making substantially more money within a year or two by choosing an employer that offered an on-the-job-training program. I’d enjoy doing something I am passionate about with long-term potential. As well as reskilling my craft.
Verifiable progressive-experience tends to be the primary requirement for a construction management role. A college degree can be substituted for work experience to fast track into an entry-level construction management role. However, on average the pay for these roles’ ranges from $40K – $60K yearly.
My Career Transition Paid Off with Higher Wages and Hands-on Training
I landed an assistant superintendent position with a small restaurant builder making $22.50 per hour, roughly $47K yearly. Thankfully I had a superintendent eager to provide me all the on-the-job training I wanted, and then some.
Over the course of 10-months, I learned how to read blueprints, create a construction schedule, sequence trades, supervise a jobsite and write RFIs. Running smaller jobs on my own became the norm. Additionally, there was a slew of valuable lessons I learned on the difference between a good and an expendable superintendent.
Surprisingly, my corporate experience proved to be very valuable onsite. 10-months later I was able to parlay my assistant superintendent experience into a superintendent role with a reputable commercial contractor. $70K per year was my new pay-off.
Earn-While-You-Learn is the Moto for the Future
In less than a year, I earned that $20K salary loss back plus $3K on top. Basically, I invested $20K in a 10-month paid on-the-job training program. That yielded a promotion in job title and a raise in salary that exceed what I was making in corporate America.
I’ve found more professional success, enjoyment, and fulfillment during the past 18 months than I had in the previous 5 years. Receiving recognition for projects completed on-schedule and on-budget is very gratifying. Now I’m heading into my second year as a superintendent with a substantial raise that has boosted my confidence and job satisfaction to an all-time high.
Deciding to pursue a career in construction through on-the-job training has changed the trajectory of my career. It should serve a prime example of the necessity for on-the-job training programs. As a means to replenish our rapidly depleting skilled labor workforce, and rebuild the foundation of our economy.
Government Apprenticeship Programs Around the Nation
In 2017, President Trump issued an executive order on expanding apprenticeships in America. This order led to the establishment of a task force on apprenticeship expansion. This task force identified strategies and recommendations to promote apprenticeships, especially in sectors where apprenticeship programs are insufficient.
It has long been established that apprenticeships fill employer’s skilled labor needs while reducing unemployment. OJT opportunities in nature provide a debt-free career path for our Generation Z, and entire workforce at-large to enjoy a family-sustaining career.
Companies bare the initial costs of apprenticeship programs, but the data proves that companies who use apprenticeship programs experience higher productivity and employee retention rates. The current skills gap puts American workers and businesses in a vulnerable economic position, negatively affecting the country’s position as a global economic leader. Manufacturing resurgence is helping our nation reestablish our economic power throughout the world.
The task force recommended sweeping reform to traditional work-and-learn models. They created the Industry Recognized Apprenticeship program to achieve higher employer engagement. These measures generate better outcomes for both workers and employers. Blue-collar revival is well on her way.
Placing a premium on streamlining the process for employers and expanding apprenticeship access to under-represented minority groups ages 18-24 is a priority as well. Job Corps, a government ran program fills the bill for this demographic.
Building the Workforce of the Future
Apprentice programs and businesses that promote or provide services for this massive on-the-job-training initiative can receive substantial government funds.
6 years from now, today’s 12-year-olds will be 18 and poised to enter the workforce. Think about how skilled and productive they would be on their first day in the full-time workforce if they received two years of vocational education and on-the-job-training while in high school. Then as an incentive for successfully completing the high school apprenticeship program, they’d receive a monetary award, a full-time job with benefits and a signing bonus.
The same applies to community college students, who have an advantage as most of schools already offer vocational education programs. Today, 12 – 17-year-olds account for roughly 25% of our population. Think about the impact on our workforce if we could even get just 1/3rd of them into a 2-year skilled trade apprenticeship program while in high school, then directly into the workforce. It would certainly help to close the skills gap by increasing workforce engagement among 16 to 24-year-olds far beyond the 2026 projections of 11.7%.
Aggressively targeting the youth to replenish the aging skilled workforce is a good start. But luring folks into a new career path and targeting historically underrepresented groups to join the skilled workforce will lead to a more effective 360 strategy. By 2026, 63% of the American workforce will be comprised of 25 to 54-year-olds, all of which are currently in the workforce today.
This group presents the largest area of opportunity to decrease the skilled labor shortage. According to a recent Gallup study, only 33% of the U.S. workforce reports being engaged at work. Meaning there is ample opportunity to lure people in the midst of a career transition into apprenticeship programs that offer paid on-the-job-training.
Filling the Job Skills Gap in America
The key to not only bridging the skills gap, but reinvigorating the American Workforce, is implementing user-friendly, incentive-based apprenticeship programs. These programs should aggressively target high school and community college students, as well as workers seeking a new career for paid on-the-job-training opportunities.
Development of skills that will lead to immediate employment becoming the foundation for sustainably lucrative careers is a key national priority. The challenge will be getting both companies and workers alike to fully embrace this blue-collar revival.
OJT supports bridging the skills gap in America
OJT Directory includes over 30,000 listings to OJT programs offered at Trade Schools, Tech Universities, Military, Employer Apprenticeships/Internships, Government Agencies, and Peace Corps.
Author Norm Williams Jr. is a job search strategist, workforce advocate, and blue-collar revivalist. He’s also the founder of the OJT.com GOLD SPONSOR The Modern Job Seeker, which guides job seekers through the process of finding then landing the job that propels them along a path towards long-term success, enjoyment, and fulfillment. For more information on how TMJS can help you find the job you WANT not NEED, email TheModernJobSeeker@gmail.com.