Making Skilled Labor Cool Again with Automation and Technology

By Mike Seiter, Field Service Technician, PVB Masonry Services

Trades often get a bad rap, especially among a younger generation. All the while, preschoolers and elementary school children are still gifted toy hammers, drills and other tools and encouraged to build things with their hands. However, once children enter high school, that hands-on encouragement often begins to dissipate. The younger generation is generally uninterested in skilled labor jobs. They’re more drawn to careers in STEM, graphic design, web development, software and finance, among others. Going to college has become the gold standard while attending vocational schools carries a perception that a student “couldn’t get into college” or somehow couldn’t “hack” regular school. With today’s skilled labor shortage, employers need to look at new ways to reach the younger generation and make working in trades an attractive opportunity.

Individuals who are part of the Generation Z demographic were born with technology at their fingertips and often see it as a critical part of the workplace. They want to push the technological envelope and help drive innovation wherever possible. Incorporating automation and technology into construction jobs can help make these positions more desirable to this generation. In the world of masonry specifically, robotics and machinery allow people to work safer and more efficiently, without the back-breaking labor of lifting and laying heavy materials all day long. And this does more than just benefit the younger generation. The older generation of workers can greatly benefit from this type of innovation too by allowing those who’ve been in the trade for many years to save their bodies while laying materials faster and easier than ever before. One example of a mason-operated machine is the Material Unit Lift Enhancer (MULE). This machine lifts and places material on a job site, allowing it to feel weightless, reduce fatigue and minimize injuries while also boosting productivity.

For those construction companies beginning to embrace the use of technology, how do they spread the word and engage with young up-in-coming workers? One great way is to become more involved with vocational schools and technical colleges through job fairs, exhibitions and hands-on demonstrations. Getting in front of students before they enter the workforce is critical to building excitement and showing potential candidates how technology can make skilled labor a more attractive, long-term career. Becoming more involved with social platforms is also key to recruiting young talent. Generation Z relies very heavily on social media so it’s critical for employers to build a strong company culture and spread the word to help attract new candidates digitally. Using social media to promote an environment of innovation, excitement and flexibility will help companies build trust with the younger generation of workers.

Many high schools have also eliminated shop classes and other vocational training opportunities, claiming budget cuts and pushing students to the college route and more traditional career paths. Working to reintegrate vocational programs back into high schools and creating new programs at four-year colleges and universities would go a long way in helping make skilled labor acceptable and “cool” again.

There are millions of jobs out there today that don’t require a college degree. But students are often given the idea that obtaining a college degree is the only path to success. Mike Rowe, former host of “Dirty Jobs” and outspoken advocate for blue-collar workers has said “You have to make (skilled trades work) aspirational. You have to change the image of the opportunity.” By involving more automation and technology in the construction industry, companies can start to reframe the conversation and implement creative ways to close the skills gap and educate a younger generation on the numerous career opportunities in the trades.

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