How to Hire & Retain Skilled Labor

by | General, Hiring, How To

There is a very serious, concerning trend happening in the blue-collar workplace: Baby Boomers are retiring, but the younger generations either lack the job skills to replace them or lack the interest to pursue these careers, resulting in a huge decline of construction, manufacturing and engineering jobs. 

Even though college attendance by Millennials is at a higher rate than previous generations with nearly 1.9 million earning their bachelor’s degree, their interests are in different industries, such as technology, business, social sciences, and other fields.

As the younger generations think about their lives and the careers they want to pursue, let’s be honest, they aren’t dreaming of becoming a forklift driver, septic tank cleaner, bridge painter, or electrician. However, it’s these jobs that help society function as a whole and allow us to live our comfortable lives. “Functioning cars, clean roads, air-conditioned homes, and fresh food are all the result of blue-collar output.”

Skilled Labor Jobs Are in High Demand Today

Blue-collar positions are declining at an alarming rate as the older generations quit and retire from their jobs, which means the demand for these jobs is getting even higher. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a few of the 20 fastest growing occupations are blue-collar positions – solar photovoltaic installers, wind turbine service technicians, and bicycle repairers. 

For most young individuals, the American dream is to go to college and get a 4-year degree, however, many students go to universities without a plan or a career in mind. Therefore, college has become their fallback because in high school it was drilled into their heads to just “go to college.” Yet, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, “nationwide, three out of 10 high school grads who go to four-year public universities haven’t earned degrees within six years.”

However, because manual labor jobs aren’t viewed as “glamorous” or stereotyped as “last resort jobs for people who didn’t go to college,” many parents and even schools are not encouraging students to learn more about these potentially lucrative career paths. “A survey by Deloitte found that less than 3 in 10 parents would encourage their children to pursue a career in manufacturing.” 

Let’s take a look at some more astounding statistics: 

  • 80% of firms predict a shortfall of qualified skilled trade workers over the next year – Associated General Contractors of America
  • 75% of construction companies nationwide are having a difficult time finding qualified workers – Associated General Contractors of America
  • 62% of firms struggle to fill important skilled trade positions – Adecco
  • 32% of billion-dollar manufacturers estimate they’ll lose over $100 million as Boomers retire over the next five or so years – Adecco
  • 31 million positions will be left vacant by 2020 due to Baby Boomer retirement estimations – Adecco
  • 30 million jobs in the United States that pay an average of $55,000 per year don’t require bachelor’s degrees – Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce

Essentially, all this data means that there is a skilled labor shortage and recruiters, along with employers, are having a difficult time filling these open positions. 

9 Key Ways to Hire & Retain Blue-Collar Workers

As the skills gap widens between Baby Boomers and today’s new generations, companies will need to rethink how they retain their blue-collar workers and be proactive to hire new ones.

1. Change the Stigma

There is a stereotype that comes to mind when we think about blue-collar workers. Many people perceive these workers as inferior to white-collar workers because as we know, white-collar positions require more education, therefore, we view those individuals as more intelligent. However, there are different levels of intelligence. For example, “a plumber’s job may not require the strongest writing and math abilities, but it does demand intelligence in the form of advanced problem-solving, project management, and people skills.”

Companies and recruiters can help remove this stigma against manual labor by changing the way we define intelligence. “With the right mindset shift, we can come to an understanding that people work blue-collar jobs because they want to, not because they have no other career options.” 

An effective way to help remove the stereotypes is by offering sponsored apprenticeship programs. These programs can support the blue-collar industry by teaching young individuals the skills and training they need as they start on their career path.

2. Offer Flexibility & Other Perks

Businesses can help boost morale by offering special perks to their employees, like flexible time where they stagger start times, which could help reduce absences. Other perks could include longer lunch hours, improvements to break areas and vending machines, posting weekly schedules well in advance, four-day workweeks, and offering “a profit-sharing plan or other equitable compensation that will allow the employees to share in the company’s success.”

Employers could also help motivate their workers by allowing them to join weekly meetings so they can voice their opinions and give feedback on how to improve processes, conditions, and equipment. Another motivator could be to “set long- and short-term goals for the employees and departments within the company. Promote friendly competitions between departments and give positive recognition to those that exceed expectations.”

3. Provide Additional Training. Offer Flexibility & Other Perks

Employees will feel valued when their company provides training that will help them advance in their careers. “Management training, in particular, can provide a pathway to promote from within, and employees being aware of these opportunities will keep them engaged.” These training programs not only help to develop the employee but also fill the talent gaps. They also assist in developing strong, trusting relationships, which benefits a higher employee retention rate. 

To help workers expand their skills and offer them a chance to explore other positions, businesses could also offer their top performers special projects.

4. Demonstrate Career Advancement

Employers can prove that blue-collar workers can advance within the company by promoting people to higher decision-making positions or even management. “Too often, there is a disconnect between the strategic decisions made by management and the work done in the field. Businesses can bridge this gap by integrating blue-collar and white-collar employees.” By doing so, this can also attract young people to these jobs because they will see that there is an opportunity for advancement.

5. Acknowledge & Reward Blue-Collar Workers

Recognition in the workplace is highly underutilized. People like to feel good about a job well done and be recognized for it. It makes them feel appreciated and valued. Workers want management’s feedback about their performance, especially if they are interested in advancing within the company. Therefore, managers should perform routine evaluations for every employee. Not only does it give people in authority roles a chance to praise individual worker achievements, but they can also use this time as an opportunity to really get to know their employees and address areas of concern in private.

When satisfaction is expressed on a regular basis, it helps to boost employee morale and makes the work feel more rewarding to the employee and keeps them loyal to the company.

6. Network & Partner with Schools

When companies work with trade schools, community colleges, and other relevant programs in their area, it gives them the advantage of funneling recent graduates into their system as soon as they are done with school. “You no longer need to search for the candidate with the know-how to operate a specific model of machinery, but rather one who demonstrates outstanding problem-solving skills, communication abilities, and initiative-taking.” 

These partnerships also help company branding by getting at the forefront of recent graduates’ minds once they complete their certification. As companies work with these organizations and schools, their names become recognized and known among students, which leads to the potential of being front and center when they begin looking for jobs to apply for once they leave school.

7. Showcase Job Return on Investment (ROI)

What the younger generations may not take into consideration is that blue-collar jobs do require more education after high school, but these community and technical colleges cost a lot less than a public university and take less time to earn required certification and associate degrees (one to two years). They are also more likely to find a job faster than their academic counterparts because these skilled trade jobs are in higher demand with less competition. 

Companies need to educate the public about their career opportunities and get involved with their local communities. Businesses should attend high school and community college career fairs to showcase the benefits of becoming a skilled tradesperson, especially the financial upside. Not only do vocational schools cost a fraction of other higher education institutions, but a significant amount of blue-collar workers make more than white-collar workers.

According to, here are the starting salaries of several blue-collar jobs:

  • Welder – $40,000
  • Carpenter – $53,000
  • Electrician – $54,000
  • Boilermaker – $62,000
  • Elevator Installer/Repairer – $79,000
  • Power Plant Operator – $80,000

“You can earn even more in these fields after gaining additional experience and developing management skills. It’s not uncommon for tradesmen to command six-figure salaries…”

8. Post Blue-Collar Jobs Online

Millennials and Gen Z are computer and tech-savvy, which means they are looking online for jobs. To appeal to these young generations, companies can post their job openings where these individuals are looking, like Craigslist, Indeed, Zip Recruiter and other relevant job board websites. But keep in mind the information they are seeking: competitive compensation packages, flexibility, training and advancement opportunities. People are less likely to look elsewhere when they feel like they are valued, appreciated for their work, and have new opportunities to improve their skills.

9. Introduce Technology to the Workplace

Kids today are growing up with social media, digital apps, and mobile devices, so as they get older and begin to think about future careers, they are more likely looking for companies who utilize innovative technology. However, they are fully aware of the threat of robots and artificial intelligence taking over thousands of jobs. According to “a study by the ManpowerGroup, 87 percent of Millennials said job security is a top priority when looking for a job.”

Companies need to help empower their blue-collar workers as they incorporate new technology so it doesn’t replace them. This means providing them with “mobile and cloud-based tools and educating them on the benefits of tools like these” that they can add to their traditional toolbox. 


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