Tom Rosendahl, President of Dakota Supply Group (DSG) wrote the following in a recent issue of their Connections magazine.

“All of the industries that we work with share one thing in common: they employ tradespeople, whether they are plumbers, HVAC technicians, electricians, utility workers, etc. In fact, if you’re reading this magazine, there’s a good chance that you’re one of these skilled men or women. You are the engine that drives the industries that DSG serves. But there’s a problem: there’s not enough of you to go around.

That is to say, young people (and their parents) rarely list “contractor” at the top of their list of career choices. Instead, their family and friends encourage them to go to a university rather than a trade school. While we can always use more good MBAs, I’ve never once had one work on my house. But I sure appreciate the tradespeople who help me with my plumbing, wiring, phone service, etc.! The truth of the matter is this: we need new tradespeople more than we need new MBAs! There’s work to be done, and we need qualified people to do it.

If you look at national statistics, the number of up-and-coming tradespeople is startlingly low. We are literally running out of them. Yet many “old school” tradespeople don’t seem to care. They’ve worked hard. They’ll retire, and then it’ll be someone else’s problem. But who will buy their business? Your retirement shouldn’t depend solely on the weather on your auction day! In fact, there doesn’t need to be an auction at all, but only if we have new contractors and tradespeople waiting to take over.

Most of us have PhDs from HKU (Hard Knocks University). That’s an expensive degree, but it makes us that much more qualified to address this issue. After all, who better to address the image problem of tradespeople than tradespeople themselves? We need to make this job attractive to young people. We need to educate kids about the benefits of working in a trade (ever wonder why DSG has a Kids Club?). And we need to charge what our work is worth, so that we can pay ourselves what we are worth.

Contracting can be a tremendously rewarding job, and I also feel that we have an obligation to make it into an appealing career. We need to do what we can to raise wages, improve benefits and acknowledge our shortcomings. I know this can work, because I’ve seen it done. We can make today better than yesterday, and we can make tomorrow even better than today. But only if we work together to recruit and retain good, young tradespeople. We can elevate the status of a career as a tradesperson if we start now. I’ll talk about that more next issue, in part 2 of this article.

Until then, it’s time to start raising awareness of this shortage of tradespeople.”

Tom makes valuable points about the future of our industry. I believe one reason young people don’t head into construction is because they don’t respect the profession – they hear about the flakes in the business, not about the majority of contractors who are hardworking serious businesspeople who want to succeed. One of our goals is to raise the image of the construction industry, and the fastest way to do that is to teach and encourage every contractor to behave like a businessman.

Thank you, Tom, for allowing us to reprint this article.

Part 2 is available here.

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