The shortage of trade labor in the United States is an issue that will affect our economy at all levels. The United States has evolved from a nation based primarily on manufacturing and construction to one based on providing information and service. Schools have suffered reductions in funding, and vocational and technical education programs have been reduced or eliminated in many states, including Nevada.
From the "Generation X" to the "Generation Now" children, there are more kids in college than ever before. The flip side to this is that there is a shortage of professional skilled trade laborers. Laborers who build our schools, hospitals, bridges as well as our electrical, highway and water infrastructures. As Baby Boomers rapidly begin to retire, who will build these important and vital structures of our ever growing society?
Where will we find these laborers and how will they get trained?
In the midst of this labor shortage, population growth has increased at an exponential rate, straining our infrastructures, finances and natural resources. The population of the United States is expected to grow by more than 25 percent over the next 50 years, and much of that growth is expected to come in the West. The result has been and will be that there are fewer workers to do more work at a higher cost to the public.
In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the construction industry will need to add 100,000 jobs a year each year through 2012, while also filling an additional 90,000 openings annually for positions vacated by retiring Baby Boomers and those leaving the industry for other reasons.
As the availability of skilled trade workers becomes less and less, the cost of performing much needed building and maintenance to our infrastructural systems will increase as well. The question becomes how will we address this issue in northern Nevada?
Many solutions have been suggested and implemented in individual states. They include the following:
* Creation of a state-funded program focused on increasing the number of trade apprentices employed, increasing the number of high school students who seek training and careers in construction, increasing the number of postsecondary students in engineering and construction management programs, and increasing the availability of adult vocational training, including in rural areas.
* Creation of a program aimed at expanding postgraduate apprenticeship opportunities for high school students by giving them opportunities to begin training while still in school.
* Development of an associate's degree program that combines craft-skills training with academic credit
and provides hands-on training in trades such as plumbing, HVAC, carpentry, and electrical. The program could be a part of a partnership with construction trade associations, local school districts, and local junior colleges and colleges.
Among the most critical concerns in northern Nevada is the availability and quality of our water supply. Reports show that we are on the verge of running out of this most precious natural resource in many areas in just over a decade. For this reason training and education is paramount in preserving what resources we have.
As the years pass, over the next two decades, northern Nevada will find itself facing employment issues that could potentially cripple growth and resource demands. Where will construction companies, utilities and municipalities find qualified employees? Will there be enough 'ready to work' laborers to meet the needs of our growing population?
Shannon Diem is the president of business development and marketing for Water Works Industry Solutions, a training company headquartered in Reno. For more information, visit wwindustrysolutions.com.