ShopTalk

One of the most noteworthy impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the national labor shortage and the widespread media attention it has earned. According to Newsweek, there were 10.4 million job openings in the United States in September, but fewer than 8 million unemployed workers. That gap has placed enormous stress on the overall Read more

One of the most noteworthy impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the national labor shortage and the widespread media attention it has earned.

According to Newsweek, there were 10.4 million job openings in the United States in September, but fewer than 8 million unemployed workers. That gap has placed enormous stress on the overall economy, from manufacturing and distribution to the retail and service sectors, as suppliers struggle to meet consumer demand.

For those in the skilled trades industries, this story is familiar. They have faced a chronic version of the overall labor shortage for decades.

Demographic challenges and misconceptions

The average age of skilled workers is now 43, according to one estimate from Angi. With fewer young people entering the trades every year, the situation is expected to get worse. The approaching wave of baby boomer retirements will only add to the problem.

For manufacturing, construction, and field service companies, the skilled trades crisis poses major ongoing challenges. It’s hard to maintain productivity and customer service while you’re understaffed or experiencing frequent turnover. Projects are often delayed because workers aren’t available. Revenue is lost for multiple reasons: worker inexperience, inefficiency, long work hours, or jobs that have to be postponed or turned down.

Unfortunately, many high school students and recent graduates who might thrive in the trades never consider a career in those industries. The message that college is the only path to success has become ingrained in our culture in the last 30 years. Despite the rising cost of higher education and the increasing number of students who never earn a degree, the college journey has eclipsed all other options.

In addition to highlighting the labor crisis, recent circumstances have demonstrated that manufacturing, distribution, and residential and commercial service jobs are a critical part of the national economy. These industries played a key role in public health and safety during lockdowns and periods of social distancing and quarantines. Many products and services provided by the HVAC and PHCC industries proved to be essential during the pandemic and have remained critical economic drivers as communities have reopened.

This national spotlight on the essential nature of the trades offers an opportunity to reorient public perception and correct the misconceptions that have contributed to the skilled trades labor gap.

Closing the gap

In response to the growing labor gap, trade organizations have partnered in recent years with vocational schools, employers, manufacturers, and public agencies to promote the trades as a viable alternative to a four-year degree. Their combined efforts are focused on the many immediate advantages offered by a skilled trades career:

  • High wages
  • On the job or employer-funded training
  • Lack of student debt
  • Immediate available positions
  • A wide variety of vocational options and career trajectories
  • Entrepreneurial opportunities

Additionally, advocates and thought leaders are making the case for other long-term strategies that will create a more effective and reliable talent pipeline. Among those ideas is diversification. Many communities have traditionally been underrepresented in the trades; focusing recruitment, outreach, and marketing efforts in those communities can build trust and allow the trades industries to connect with vibrant new pools of talent.

Immediate solutions

Those efforts, however, will take time to pay off. In the meantime, employers are still faced with a labor crisis of historic proportions and the urgent need to operate efficiently in order to remain competitive in this challenging economic climate.

In order to maintain productivity throughout the remainder of the pandemic and during recovery, many employers are looking for immediate solutions. While there is no magic bullet that will compensate for a labor shortage, there are a number of new and emerging tools available that can help companies boost efficiency and productivity so they can continue to deliver results for their customers.

The pandemic has focused a spotlight on the importance of the technology revolution that was already underway among skilled service providers. Some of the major technology trends and developments that have been accelerated by the pandemic and its fallout are:

  • Mobile and remote capabilities: As COVID-19 forced many employees across multiple industries to work cohesively without a physical office, technician mobile apps and other remote technologies have become invaluable to commercial contractors of all types. Today, various mobile applications give teams remote work capabilities that weren’t possible a decade ago.
  • Modular construction: The modular construction market is seeing an increase in business, which is in response to combined cost-effective construction technology and labor shortages. Modular and offsite construction continues to grow and contribute to less expensive housing and commercial construction. In addition to their convenience, other benefits of modular projects include the ability to more effectively regulate worker safety within ventilated and climate-controlled workspaces. These advantages also further help workers comply with social distancing guidelines.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Artificial intelligence (AI) is capable of lowering the cost of construction and service while helping teams successfully plan and schedule projects. AI is frequently used in software to conduct analyses and simulations in a variety of hypothetical situations and environments. In turn, AI is invaluable in developing new safety protocols and minimizing the risk of workplace injuries. Its role is expected to continue to rise in response to the workforce shortage exacerbated by COVID-19 shutdowns.
  • Integrated software solutions: The number of contractors who still rely on pencil and paper or spreadsheets for record-keeping and accounting has steadily dwindled over the last decade, and sharply declined during 2020. Simply switching from manual job management to an enterprise solution can generate major gains for most businesses. A single all-in-one platform is critical for efficiency; requiring technicians to move back and forth between multiple apps not only takes up precious work time, it can serve as an obstacle to adoption.
  • When actionable data from across departments is collected and accessible in real time, all parties involved in a project benefit. Up-to-the-minute insights and transparent communication empower purposeful, immediate decision-making and fast, accurate execution.

Resolving the labor shortage that has challenged the skilled trades will be a win not only for the industries involved. The long-term strategies currently being deployed will expand the choices available for young people and dismantle the preconceived notion that a college degree is required for success. By opening up opportunities for vocational training and apprenticeships in place of a university program, we can ensure young people are on the right track from the start. Presenting the trades as a viable option could also help reduce the national burden of student debt and alleviate college dropout rates.

In order to find and implement a comprehensive solution, it is imperative that we examine and assess our educational pipeline and deliver an authentic message about the advantages and opportunities of skilled trades careers. Innovation is the key to ensuring America’s workforce is prepared and supported.

For more information on this subject, visit www.buildops.com.

A.O. Smith, a leading water heater manufacturer, has donated 200 water heaters for Waverly, Tenn. flood relief efforts. The units will be provided to flood victims who are still rebuilding eight months after storms ripped through the town on Aug. 21, 2021. “At A. O. Smith, we are deeply committed to supporting our local communities,” Read more

A.O. Smith, a leading water heater manufacturer, has donated 200 water heaters for Waverly, Tenn. flood relief efforts. The units will be provided to flood victims who are still rebuilding eight months after storms ripped through the town on Aug. 21, 2021.

“At A. O. Smith, we are deeply committed to supporting our local communities,” said David Chisolm, vice president of marketing and customer experience. “Hot water is such a basic life necessity. We hope the donation of these units will allow this community to rebuild more quickly while lessening the financial burden. We also hope that this will inspire other companies to step forward with additional donations to assist in rebuilding the Waverly community.”

In August 2021, treacherous storms swept through the Waverly community claiming 20 lives, including several children. Hundreds of homes were damaged, and some residents have even had to purchase trailers and RVs to live in while their homes are being repaired. Of the homes that were destroyed or severely damaged, 80% of them are owned by people ages 70 or older, and most of those homeowners are living on social security wages.

“The past eight months since the flood have been incredibly difficult, but Waverly is a resilient town,” said Waverly resident, Susan Hodges. “When our family began rebuilding, we had no idea how long the process would take or just how expensive it would be. We’re grateful for the money we’ve saved by not having to purchase a water heater, but the impact of A. O. Smith’s donation goes beyond that—it’s a huge step toward making our home livable once again, and it’s raised our spirits along the way.”

FEMA helped support the community at the beginning of its redevelopment phase immediately after the flooding, but the extensive damage has continued to put pressure on homeowners. Community members have worked relentlessly to help their neighbors, friends and family in the area recover from the devastation. Hodges has two adult children living in Waverly whose houses were destroyed by the flood. She has spent the last eight months assisting them in their complete home renovations.

“The Waverly community has worked tirelessly to help neighbors and friends rebuild from this tragedy. We are so thankful for the water heater donation from A. O. Smith,” said Kaye Thomas of First Baptist Church Relief Efforts. “Water heaters are an essential item that many of our homeowners could not afford without the help from A. O. Smith. This donation truly gave the Waverly community a renewed sense of hope in what continues to be a long road to recovery. It will allow our community to continue to push forward in recovery efforts as we rebuild.”

The units were delivered to the First Baptist Church in Waverly earlier this year, and roughly 100 units have already been distributed to families in need. Distribution and installation will continue in the coming months.

Blaklader’s introduces its new Hi-Vis Softshell Jacket that is wind- and water-resistant for use during shoulder seasons or for layering. It features reflective details and tape on the body and sleeves, adjustable Velcro sleeves, front zipper pockets, adjustable collar, detachable hood, extended back, and adjustable hem with drawstring. CERTIFICATION Not certified according to CSA-Z96 MAIN Read more

Blaklader’s introduces its new Hi-Vis Softshell Jacket that is wind- and water-resistant for use during shoulder seasons or for layering. It features reflective details and tape on the body and sleeves, adjustable Velcro sleeves, front zipper pockets, adjustable collar, detachable hood, extended back, and adjustable hem with drawstring.

CERTIFICATION

Not certified according to CSA-Z96

MAIN MATERIAL

92% polyester, 8% elastane, 3-layer softshell, waterproof, windproof, breathable, stretch, 8 oz

FUNCTIONALITY

Dark color field in high grime-exposure sections, Wind and waterproof material, no taped seams

DETAILS

Shoulder sections in contrasting color
High collar
Removable hood
D-ring
Good surface for transfer

FRONT CLOSURE

Robust one-way plastic zipper

POCKETS

Chest pockets with zipper and D-ring
Front pockets with zipper

FINISH

Extended back, Adjustable hem with drawstring
Adjustable sleeve end with velcro

REFLEX

50 mm wide reflective tape, Reflective details, Reflective tape on body and sleeves

The jacket is available in men’s and women’s cuts. www.blaklader.com

No doubt about it, COVID-19 quickly changed the way we work, and play. Travel and in person visits came to a screeching halt. Professional offices, suppliers, even many working shops closed their doors to visitors. Training in the not to distant past was done, for the most part, in person. Conveniently, most trainers adapted quickly Read more

No doubt about it, COVID-19 quickly changed the way we work, and play. Travel and in person visits came to a screeching halt. Professional offices, suppliers, even many working shops closed their doors to visitors. Training in the not to distant past was done, for the most part, in person. Conveniently, most trainers adapted quickly to offer online training options. Many of the companies in our industry were already familiar with platforms like Go To meeting. This made the switch to virtual training fairly easy for those trainers.

Some trainers I met through the ESCO group devised hybrid virtual training events. With a few cameras, one that would follow you around a room they kept the hands on training available also.

An instructor in front of a piece of equipment would be led through the troubleshooting in real time, clever and almost like being there.

The question remains, what happens going forward in the training world. In some cases offices that made the change to virtual workspaces plan on staying that way. In some larger cities’ that has created  office space vacancies and those building owners are scrambling to repurpose those spaces to get the rent rolling back in.

In cities like San Francisco it was a tough slog to see more than two engineering firms in a day due to traffic and parking logistics. With online, virtual sessions you can present to their entire staff as well as any locations they have scattered around the world.

I’ve started limited travel myself for training events. I doubt cramming 30 or more folks into a hotel meeting room will ever be attractive anymore. In some cases moving the training into the shop area, parking lot or a large cafeteria  area is a good option to allow attendees to spread out more.

I doubt anyone knows for sure how this will shake out or what “bug” will hit us next that makes  people want to avoid crowded rooms and spaces, but plan on having options. Come up with new ways to engage the attendees. Not being able to see faces, expressions and not getting that in person feedback changes the game for a trainer.  Add polls to your training to get some interaction and a feel for the groups. Consider multiple speakers or trainers to get some back and forth conversation in your online trainings.

The need for having a trained workforce is critical. Equipment is becoming more sophisticated and specific, so factory training will march forward. We would love to hear from all the players in the industry, thoughts suggestions, what we can do to keep you’ all coming back.

Let’s rid the ‘VID and get back to the normal face to face that we all crave.

Donate extra inventory, demo models, tools and building materials that are no longer needed, during the month of August to support Habitat for Humanity. Sonnhalter, a communications firm marketing to the professional tradesman in the construction, industrial and MRO markets, is partnering with Habitat for Humanity again for its Twelfth Annual Sonnhalter Tool Drive. In the past decade Read more

Donate extra inventory, demo models, tools and building materials that are no longer needed, during the month of August to support Habitat for Humanity.

Sonnhalter, a communications firm marketing to the professional tradesman in the construction, industrial and MRO markets, is partnering with Habitat for Humanity again for its Twelfth Annual Sonnhalter Tool Drive. In the past decade, Sonnhalter has raised more than $310,000 worth in donations for the organization.

From Sunday, August 1 to Tuesday, August 31, organizations, businesses and manufacturers are encouraged to donate extra inventory, demo models, tools and building materials to the Sonnhalter Tool Drive to benefit Habitat for Humanity’s cause and its efforts of eliminating substandard housing.

“We never imagined how big the tool drive would become! Over a decade later, we are still working with our wonderful partners at the Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity,” said Matt Sonnhalter, vision architect at Sonnhalter. “Since our efforts began in 2010, we are once again counting on the generosity of our clients and business colleagues, as well as businesses to clean out their extra inventory, overstocked materials and demo models, and donate to this very worthy cause. We’re looking forward to exceeding the donations of past years.”

The Sonnhalter Tool Drive strives to engage businesses and organizations to look through warehouses for extra inventory and overstocked tools or items.

Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity has completed more than 300 homes since 1987 and today, engages over 3,000 volunteers, who provide more than 93,000 hours of service per year to Cleveland’s most distressed neighborhoods. The donated items will be used for Habitat for Humanity projects or will be sold at one of the organization’s ReStore, a recycled building materials store. Proceeds from ReStore sales are used to help Habitat build and rehabilitate homes for those in need.

Tools and materials can be shipped to Attn: Tool Drive, Sonnhalter, 1320 Sumner Ave., Suite 200, Cleveland, Ohio 44115. For information on how you can participate in the Sonnhalter Tool Drive, or to coordinate larger shipments i.e., pallet size, please contact Rosemarie Ascherl-Lenhard from Sonnhalter at 216.242.0420 x130 or rascherl@sonnhalter.com. To make a monetary donation, please make checks payable to “Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity” and mail to Sonnhalter, 1320 Sumner Ave., Suite 200, Cleveland, Ohio 44115.

For more information on the Tool Drive, visit: www.Sonnhalter.com/tooldrive.