Understanding our Workforce

It’s no surprise to people in the trades that there is a shortage of workers. Workforce shortages have been plaguing the trades for over a decade. While the shortage is clear to many, the reasons for the shortage are more complex. The stigma of working in the trades and the high number of people seeking so-called white-collar careers that require 4-year bachelor’s degrees is a part of it. The trades are falsely seen as a less lucrative career path.

More Jobs Than People

However, there is a growing issue that is broader than just the trades. Since 2018 the number of available jobs has been higher than the number of people looking for work[1]. This is especially true for service industry jobs such as home health aides, restaurant workers and hotel staff. This means employers are going to have to do more to entice individuals to their open positions.

For example, in January construction employment rose by 44,000. Most of this gain was in the specialty trades, with increases in residential of 18,000 plus and nonresidential of 17,000. Construction added an average of 12,000 jobs a month in 2019.

The US Labor Force

Labor Force overview: According to the Department of Labor Statistics, January 2020[2]

Civilian non-institutional population 259,502,000
US labor force* 164,606,000 (63.4%)
Employed 158,714,000
Unemployed 5,892,000
Not in labor force** 94,896,000

* The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) only looks at people 16 years and up, who are not institutionalized (not in prison, nursing homes or active duty military which as of February 28, 2019, was 1,359,685 servicemembers, with an additional 799,845 people in the seven reserve components. The DOD is the largest employer in the world.)

**In 2014, the BLS surveyed the non-labor force population which was 87,419,000 people[3]

Reasons for Not Working Number of People
Ill 16,309,000
Retired 38,530,000
At Home (caring for children, etc.) 13,511,000
Going to school 16,018,000
Other (don’t need to work, given up, etc.) 3,051,000

Students Offer an Opportunity to Attract More People to the Trades

The number that stands out as potential for trade industries in the 16 million people currently in school! The other category also holds promise and includes the 3 million people in the other category, some of whom are choosing not to work.

Desk Free Nation’s Work to Attract Students

To capture students, Desk Free Nation is creating messaging that resonates with young people, providing them information on the trades as a lucrative alternative to a four-year college career path. There are 16 million college students we think will be interested in trade careers.

Click the Image to See a Video Designed for College Students

Immigrants Offer More Possibilities

Another promising avenue for trade workers is low-skill immigrants. While new immigrants might not meet the needs of residential service business or other careers that require higher interpersonal and communication skills, they would be perfect for trade careers that don’t require these skills, freeing other workers for high interaction jobs such as residential service. Currently this is a small pool of employees about 6% of the size of the potential in school population. Still the opportunity to capitalize on a world-wide mobile workforce is large.

Current Immigration Figures

In 2017 1.1 million immigrants entered the US with a permanent visa[4]

Reason for Immigrating Percentage of 1.1 million
Join family members 67%
Refugees or asylum seekers 13%
Employer sponsorship 12%
Visa lottery process*** 5%

***Created in 1990, the lottery sets aside 55,000 diversity visas annually, of which 5,000 must be used for applicants under the Nicaraguan and Central America Relief Act of 1997. Interest in the lottery is significantly higher than there are available visas

Temporary Visas

Millions come over with temporary visas as tourists, to go to school, for business reasons, etc. 2/3 of those who are in the US without documentation (a visa or greencard) are people who entered the US on a temporary visa and overstayed.

There are three temporary visa worker programs.

  • The Agricultural Sector: H-2A Visas has been increasing the number of visas it issues with 136,000 visas in 2016.
  • The Seasonal Nonagricultural Industries: H-2B Visas has a cap of 66,000 visas annually, but Congress has been allowing the number to exceed this for returning visa holders. In 2016 the number of visas was 85,000 and has increased since then.
  • The third program, The High-Skilled Occupations: H-1B Visas, is the largest with 180,000 visas in 2016.

Businesses Must Look at All Options

With the retiring baby boom generation, issues with available workforce are not likely to go away soon. Business owners will need to be creative in their methods of attracting and retaining employees, including giving higher wages, more flexible work hours, etc. We must be proactive if we are going to grow the workforce of the trades.

[1]  https://www.vox.com/2019/3/18/18270916/labor-shortage-workers-us

[2] https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t01.htm

[3] https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-4/people-who-are-not-in-the-labor-force-why-arent-they-working.htm

[4] https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states