There’s never been a better time to be a skilled worker in Arkansas. Skilled labor — also known as “the trades” is in short supply in The Natural State, and Arkansas’s not alone. Skilled workers have been declining in numbers nationwide for decades as not enough young people have gone into jobs such as electricians, plumbers, construction, welding and a variety of manufacturing fields to help companies keep up with growth.
Contributing to the situation are the millions of existing skilled workers looking to retire and companies struggling to catch up with hiring after COVID. About 10,000 baby boomers reach age 65 every day, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and by 2030 all members of this generation will be at least 65 years of age. This has reduced the boomer labor force by an average of 2.2 million workers each year since 2010, or about 5,900 workers daily, according to analysis by Pew Research Center.
The COVID-19 pandemic further complicated things by driving millions out of the trades overnight. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 8 million skilled labor jobs were eliminated during the pandemic, only about half of which have been refilled since.
But perhaps the most stubborn problem facing skilled careers has been an image problem 40 years in the making. Beginning in the 1980s, parents and guidance counselors preached to young people a four-year degree was the only path to long-term career success. Working with one’s hands, meanwhile, was often portrayed as low-skill, low-tech, dead-end work that was hot, dirty and dangerous. Many high schools even did away with shop and ag classes altogether, reinforcing the negative stereotypes about skilled careers.
However, as many high school graduates found out the hard way, four-year colleges are not for everyone, causing many to drop out before attaining a degree, limiting job prospects (but not before racking up considerable student loan debt).
Fortunately, things are starting to turn around in Arkansas as more and more kids are being exposed to skilled careers at younger and younger ages. Community colleges across The Natural State have strengthened partnerships with local school systems to offer training classes during a student’s high school years. This allows more students to get at least part of their training out of the way before high school graduation.
Companies in need of skilled workers have also stepped up to the plate, with high wages; clean, safe working conditions; and career pathways that give employees looking to advance something to work toward. And, the nature of blue-collar jobs themselves has changed, with much more technology in play than ever before. As with every other area of life today, computers and digital technology are everywhere on the job site and in the factory, requiring a new generation of skilled workers to operate them and keep them running.
The future of skilled careers is one of immense opportunity, and while the shortage of skilled workers won’t be solved overnight, there are signs things are headed in the right direction. That’s good for companies, good for workers and great for the state of Arkansas.
311 Third Street Circle, Earle AR 72331
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0 Arkansas Street, Earle AR 72331
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2721A Adams Street, Stephens AR 71764
Large fixer upper mobile home in Stephens, Arkansas. Please Note: We have not visited this property personally as of yet and cannot guarantee the existence…