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Addressing the Skilled Laborer Shortage

May 19, 2023 | Featured, HR Matters, Professional Services


Pressmaster | Envato

Stephanie Haydn Buchanan

By Stephanie Haydn Buchanan - Senior Consultant, Business Development

For more information about People AK, please visit peopleak.com or call 907-276-5707.

Although many attribute skilled labor and trade shortages in Alaska and the United States to the Great Resignation following COVID-19, it has unfortunately been an industry topic for over a decade. Across all fifty states, money for infrastructure projects is left on the table because of the skilled labor shortage, and in Alaska, the lack of skilled labor is critical, as infrastructure funding is crucial in a state that lacks modern necessities, like roads and sanitation in rural communities.

​Understanding younger generations will help industry leaders develop a long-term approach to attracting future laborers. While Millennials and Generation Z get a bad rap for their lack of what other generations label work ethic, the truth is that they have a work ethic. They just value their contribution to the workforce differently. Research indicates that the younger generations entering the workforce value a sense of meaning over the size of their salary.
Step one is engaging with the younger generation on why they should consider a career as a laborer. Industry leaders should consider developing campaigns to encourage the next generation to consider this career path by developing strategies to reach the future workforce by targeting them on platforms they regularly utilize with short, powerful stories highlighting the work’s importance.

But that can’t be the only step. Growing the next-generation laborer workforce will require a long-term plan. This plan will require overcoming several misconceptions about careers as laborers. It begins by celebrating industry successes and illustrating the history of building Alaska rather than just telling the “now” story. Alaskans are known to have grit. They are rugged and hard-working and both brilliant and resilient. From Alaska’s first people to those who have chosen to make Alaska home, we build roads, structures, and communities. The history of Alaska is very much the history of skilled labor, which evokes pride. To attract the next generation, that pride must be felt and celebrated.

What are some of the misconceptions about a career as a laborer?

Lack of advancement opportunities: FALSE. Many of our current leaders started as a laborer.

Physically demanding: TRUE and FALSE. This depends on the field and technology utilized.

Not for women: FALSE. More women are seeking careers in construction and trade, recognizing the balance afforded them when managing careers and families.

Low paying: FALSE. Skilled tradespeople have earning potential exceeding six figures.

Unrewarding: FALSE. Taking part in connecting communities and building infrastructure is highly rewarding.

After you have dispelled these misconceptions, the industry needs to create programs that introduce youth to skilled labor since schools no longer offer introductions to shop, woodworking, and other trades. It is now up to industry leaders to introduce skilled trades. Leaders and workers must volunteer in schools and youth camps and be willing to create mentorship and internship programs. Advocate for our future!

Recruitment for skilled workers must include a campaign celebrating the work’s intrinsic value, not just the monetary benefits. During a recent engagement, a client faced a shortage of workers that resulted in delayed or canceled services. To help this client, we developed a campaign that leveraged current employees to share their experiences and to function as ambassadors to generate genuine interest, resulting in new applicants. Gone are the days of standard recruiting. Recruiting today is about campaigning for action.

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