Our trade has a certain rhythm to it. From proposals to pipelines to projects, there is a routine that keeps our businesses humming. When something challenges that routine, I have always been impressed by our industry’s ability to overcome obstacles. This was true during the pandemic as our creativity carried us through.
Today, we face another challenge that continues growing: an aging workforce. Between 2008 and 2019, the retired 55-plus population grew by 1 million per year. In the past two years, the ranks of retirees 55 and older have increased by 3.5 million. The number of workers retiring is accelerating. The pandemic has sped this up.
We must remember that the aging workforce issue is not just a sheet metal issue; it’s an issue facing all industries, including manufacturing, energy generation, homebuilders, healthcare, and others.
These industries need to replace millions of workers. In fact, the energy industry wants to triple its workforce, and they are willing to invest heavily to do it. So, our competition for new hires isn’t just the non-signatory sheet metal contractor. It’s the power company, the manufacturing plant, and the local home builder.
Luckily, SMACNA National and many SMACNA chapters and their local JATCs are working to raise awareness and recruit viable candidates to our trade. Some of our members, especially Angie Simon and Rick Hermanson — featured in the cover story of this issue — are even thinking outside of the box. They created a camp concept where teens get to test out the sheet metal trade a few days per week while managers get to test the teens’ ability to learn. By camp's end, each teen knows if this trade is for him or her and the contractors know which teens would make great apprentices.
The playbook they developed is available to share with other contractors interested in running their own camps. (See “Anatomy of an HMSE Playbook” on page 17.) SMACNA is helping Simon and Hermanson promote the camp concept, and the Western Washington SMACNA chapter is helping manage the organization. Currently, there are about 15 contractors planning camps for this summer.
Imagine if every SMACNA member ran a camp and hired two or three campers, this program would help us address workforce shortages in a brief period of time.
Al LaBella, SMACNA President