Find new talent in a time of skilled trade labor shortage

Expert Insight

Find new talent in a time of skilled trade labor shortage

North America is facing a skilled trades talent drought. In 2016 skilled trades positions were the hardest role for companies to fill for the seventh straight year. With nearly 20% of current tradespeople older than 55 and only one new tradesperson entering the workforce for every five who retire, this labor challenge will only worsen over the coming years.

As new talent graduates from vocational and technical schools, the private sector’s high wages and fast hiring processes frequently prevent higher education institutions from accessing this valuable pipeline of employable talent. While many skilled tradespeople would appreciate employment in higher ed and the generous benefits, most are unaware of what universities and colleges have to offer.

Use internship programs to recruit skilled trades talent

Recognizing this pipeline challenge, one public research institution devised a program to bring new skilled tradespeople into their facilities division before they graduate—and well before they started to evaluate private sector employment opportunities. Its trades student internship program offers vocational and technical school students paid part-time employment in their shops to complement their studies. The paid, hands-on nature of the internships appeals to students who seek work experience to round out their training. Meanwhile, the institution showcases the advantages of working in higher ed to a captive audience.

The internship program has been a huge success for the institution. First, partnerships with the local vocational and technical schools allow leaders to develop targeted marketing materials and create an applicant pipeline. Second, the program design promotes the benefits and culture of the higher ed facilities division. While interns spend the majority of their time in shops directly related to their field of study, they also rotate through other shops to gain broader exposure to the unit’s culture and benefits. Ultimately, the institution considers their internship program a major element of their broader talent development strategy.

In the decade since it launched, the institution’s facilities department has filled 18 permanent roles with their previous interns, many of whom would have never considered higher ed employment without the program. Beyond filling in-demand roles, the interns bring new perspectives and knowledge of new technology to the shops. The success of the program has encouraged the institution to hire interns in other areas of the facilities division with similarly tight candidate pipelines.

Address the wider facilities talent crunch

The Facilities Forum’s forthcoming research on talent development will explore proven strategies to address four major workforce challenges: sourcing skilled trades talent from a shrinking labor pool, growing your own talent to meet demand for skilled labor, engaging and retaining frontline service staff, and improving the effectiveness of frontline supervisors.

We’ll also share best practices and step-by-step toolkits to develop your own apprenticeship programs, evaluate your current hiring and retention processes, and surface new leadership candidates. You’ll hear real-world facilities success stories including an engagement campaign to connect staff to the institutional mission and a facilities-focused leadership seminar to develop skills not covered by their HR division.

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