The Skilled Worker Shortage Keeps Getting Worse


June 30, 2015
Trade workers are retiring without replacements

Anyone who regularly reads a newspaper or business publication will eventually come across an article detailing the predicament of a shortage of skilled trade workers. A recent survey from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) shows that 18 percent of them said the shortage of labor has forced them to turn down projects or slow the rate of incoming work.

Keep in mind this is at a time when home building in America has been in a dire slump. New homes are being image of plumbersbuilt at less than half the rate they were prior to 2008. Imagine how severe the skilled labor shortage will be if boom times ever return.

Virtually every other survey by construction and manufacturing groups also emphasize the shortage of skill trade workers, and the problem continues to worsen because of an aging work force. One study found that as of 2012, 53 percent of skilled-trade workers in the U.S. were 45 years and older, according to EMSI, and 18.6 percent were between the ages of 55 and 64.

By comparison, the overall labor force found 44 percent of workers were at least 45 years old, and 15.5 percent of jobs were held by the 55-to-64 demographic.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 386,900 plumbers in the U.S. as of 2012. BLS projects a need for 469,200 by 2022, an additional 82,300 for a growth rate of 21%. This compares with 11% growth for all jobs across our economy.

However, many of those 386,900 plumbers are aging and will be retiring in the next 10 years. One figure suggests as many as 167,000 will be giving it up by then. So the economy will need 167,000 + 82,300 = 249,300 more plumbers by 2022, or around 82% of the total number that existed in 2012. Just to stay even with demand.

One solution might be for today’s plumbers to work beyond normal retirement age of 65. But that’s unlikely, because studies have shown that the skilled trades have far fewer 65-and-older workers than the total labor force (1.9 percent to 4.8 percent). That’s because these jobs are physically demanding. Many older plumbers simply can’t handle the physical demands of the job anymore, even if they want to continue working.

Similar demographics apply to electricians and other skilled trades. All of this would be okay if there were a steady supply of young people entering the trades, but if there were, this website would need to exist and I wouldn’t be writing this blog.

What it all means is enormous opportunity for anyone looking for a skilled trade career. Pay scales have always been better than average and are bound to go up still further as the imbalance increases between supply of and demand for skilled trade workers.