We Can’t Do It Without Them!

July 24, 2017

In the manufacturing industry, there’s a serious shortage. Skilled trades are fast becoming extinct, thanks to an entire generation heading into retirement. The perception that skilled tradespeople are “dumb”, “lazy”, and “clumsy” could not be further from the truth. Tradespeople possess skills that are essential in any manufacturing facility.

Parents say they don’t want their kids to be welders. Instead, they want their kids to be doctors, lawyers, office workers. Why is this? Is it because the film media portrays skilled tradespeople as stupid, as theorized by Mike Rowe (he of Dirty Jobs fame)? Or do they say they want the best for their kids? If it’s the latter, then the best could be a skilled trade. It is not the low-paying, unmotivated, routine job that is portrayed in the media. What if their kid doesn’t have the aptitude to a doctor, lawyer or office worker? Is a skilled trade completely discounted because of its reputation? It’s time to change the perception and educate parents about skilled trades.

Parents who would prefer their child to go into computer science rather than welding don’t understand that a welder can learn to automate a production line, but a computer science person will not be able to do this because they don’t understand the welding process. A person trained in computer science may struggle to get a job because the market is saturated with that skill, but a skilled welder can easily find a well-paid job, and can then learn computer science skills to become an indispensable employee.

Another problem is the reluctance of employers towards young employees. Some employers tend to be reluctant to take a chance on a shiny new graduate. The perception is that young people are lazy and unmotivated, too absorbed in their online social life, not willing or able to take on a responsible role. If employers are only encountering lazy and unmotivated candidates, they’re recruiting in the wrong places.

Andy Joseph, president and founder of Apeks Supercritical, spent six years in the Navy, in charge of nuclear submarine reactors. He had direct reports, and did I say it? was responsible for a nuclear submarine reactor. This was at age 20. When Andy left the Navy at age 24, he was used to a high level of responsibility, but the perception of youngsters was that he was lazy, unmotivated and couldn’t be trusted, and the only job he could find was packing boxes at UPS. He was lumped into the stereotype of the average 24-year old, simply because of his age.

Andy went on to start Apeks Supercritical, a CO2 extraction manufacturer, and now employs 30 people, many of them skilled tradespeople. The company partners with a local vocational school, Career and Technical Education Center of Licking County (C-Tec). This school trains 11th and 12th graders in skilled trades. They are given job specific training in the 11th grade, and experiential, on-site training in their 12th year.  This means that they hit the ground running in their chosen trade. The C-Tec program matures the high schoolers and instills a strong work ethic in them, resulting in valuable employees, before they’ve even left 12th grade.

There are continued challenges, however. Certain roles are difficult to fill. It is very hard to find a machinist – this is one of the skills not taught at C-Tec, due to a lack of demand. Another difficult role to fill is a service engineer, but that is due to the travel requirement. Service engineers at Apeks have to travel to customer sites to train and service systems. Outside of machinists and service engineers, Apeks rarely has to advertise for workers. C-Tec fills the need with young people, who have spent two years learning the trade. Over the past 16 years, Apeks has hired 10 people from C-Tec.

In addition to C-Tec, Apeks hires many military veterans. The military teaches young people to take responsibility, be accountable, and have a strong work ethic. People exiting the army after four or six years’ service are not typical 24-year olds. They can handle a lot of responsibility and are used to having people reporting to them, so are ready for management roles much sooner than people without that experience.

In the cannabis industry, companies should look to nearby vocational schools for people studying horticulture, or those studying culinary arts, if the business is edibles. Don’t discount young people – they have a lot to offer and with the right training and background, can and will become valuable employees.