The most recent US Census estimates that there are 73 million baby boomers currently, and by 2030 all baby boomers will be 65 or older. This demographic shift is known as the “gray tsunami” as many experienced workers retire and focus on their golden years. This trend will have a disproportionate impact on skilled trade jobs since baby boomers represent a larger than average population for these industries.
“As boomers age through their 60s, 70s, 80s and increasingly beyond, the ‘big bulge’ of the boomer generation will contribute to the overall aging of the U.S. population in coming decades,” said Stella Ogunwole, a demographic statistician with the Census Bureau. “The older population is becoming even more significant.”
Baby boomers currently represent the majority of skilled trades workers, so as they exit the workforce that presents an issue for America’s economy? Adecco created released an economic forecast, and the data revealed three takeaways that underscore the need for the American economy to invest in educating more skilled labor:
- 62% of firms are currently struggling to fill skilled trade positions. Baby boomers currently hold about 5 million construction and extraction jobs.
- 32% of manufacturers that currently make over $1 billion will lose over $100 million over the next few years due to baby boomers retiring.
- Electrical and Electronics Repairers are the oldest workforce in the skilled trades today (72 percent of workers are 45+ and over 30 percent are 55+), with Engineering Technicians from these fields following closely behind.
Trade jobs cannot be outsourced. The millennial generation has shown a lack of interest in pursuing vocational careers — this is adding to an already strained market for electrical, electronics and manufacturing fields given the need to replace retiring employees.
Future apprentices need the baby boomer generation to pass their knowledge and wisdom. As the baby boomers retire over the coming decade it is now more important than ever that we find new apprentices to join the trades in order to pass the baton to those who will carry our economy in the future. We need to educate people about the high value gained from a trade school.
Mike Rowe is advocating change
PBS News Hour’s Paul Solman interviewed Mike Rowe about the continued skills gap in the American job market. The problem is well-known; there is a shortage of skilled trades people who are talented in the classic trades. This would be the technicians who repair vehicles, perform electrical work, work in high-tech manufacturing, and even the Health Sciences and Culinary Arts. According to Mike Rowe, this stigma has now been called into question, as the pandemic has shed light on who is considered “essential personnel”.
Wages will need to go up, and society needs to change its mis-perceptions about skilled jobs to attract the millennial generation. Investment in proper skilled training takes years, not days or months. Social ideas and beliefs can take even longer to change. We need to prepare our future generations starting today so we can have a better tomorrow. More importantly, we need to take a hard look at the value skilled trades provide our economy and appreciate it.