The young people aging into the workforce are causing quite a stir. Commentators love to write off Generation Y, or millennials, (born approximately 1980 through the mid-1990s) and Generation Z (born roughly between 1996 and 2013) as unreliable and lazy. But while there are a few bad apples in any group, it’s not a label that should be applied to entire generations.
These traits can be found in people from every generation! Millennials' length of time at a job is no shorter than Gen X-ers when they were entering the workforce, according to a Pew Research study. The tendency to "job-hop" is not a problem with the people born during a certain decade: it’s an age-group flaw. But it is true that these up-and-coming generations are changing the workforce. For the trade industry, these changes can be jarring.Industry concerns
There’s a lot of pressure on aging plumbers and drain cleaners who are the best in their field, but who also hope to retire soon. In 2012, it was reported that “53 percent of skilled-trade workers in the U.S. were 45 years and older, and 18.6 percent were between the ages of 55 and 64.” At WWETT 2016, the Plumbers vs. Technicians: The Slow Decline of Tradesman presentation estimated the average age of a master plumber is 58 years old. These industry pros have a wealth of knowledge that needs to be passed down, and there are not enough newcomers to replace them once they’ve retired. They aren’t the only ones who should be stressed about the the possibility of a plumber and drain cleaner shortage though. Everyone should be concerned about the long-term impact of their absence on health, hygiene and building safety.
Part of why young people aren’t plumbing and drain cleaning is because these jobs simply aren’t on their radar. While most secondary schools have Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, the National Center for Education Statistics determined that from 1990 to 2009 student interests shifted to communications and healthcare jobs. CTE programs began offering more opportunities in these fields, often neglecting construction, repair and manufacturing as a result. Recent analysis reinforces the downward trend with apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship programs ranking as some of the least offered work-based learning programs available to students. So it’s no surprise when plumbing and drain cleaning veterans get frustrated that those entering the field are coming in with little to no experience. But instead of complaining about this reality, clear, positive messaging from the industry that millennials and Gen Z-ers are wanted—and will be trained and supported—will help make them want to stay.
Appealing to younger generations requires helping them connect the dots between their skills, interests and goals and what the industry can offer them. Waste no time comparing their differences to current plumbers and drain cleaners and leave generational stereotypes at the door. Millennials and Gen Z-ers are techy, so cross-training on different machines and types of work will keep them learning and engaged. They might contribute solutions to improve efficiency that wouldn’t be spotted by industry veterans. While their suggestions can sometimes appear to be critiques or a question of authority, this is not usually the case. These generations want to provide value; they feel the need to be socially responsible and often pursue careers where they feel they can make a difference. A service trade like plumbing and drain cleaning can fulfill these desires. The ticket is to align plumbing and drain cleaning careers with the millennial and Gen Z core values.
Getting young people interested in the opportunities available to them within plumbing and drain cleaning doesn’t have to be difficult, but the current messaging does have to change. Overcoming generational differences must come from both sides and won’t happen overnight. The age-gap issue isn’t new to the industry, and while no one in particular is to blame, those entering the workplace now certainly aren’t at fault. Going forward, introducing people to the field at an early age will help. Training and mentoring programs are also incredibly important. The best actions current plumbers and drain cleaners can take are to welcome newcomers and be advocates for this industry.
For more advice, check out our blog on finding, hiring and retaining employees: