Several years ago, facility management circles began talking about the issue of the aging workforce. The subject was of great concern and came with recommendations for training programs and succession plans, as well as putting management processes in place.
After all, the workforce was aging. Our concern was — and still is — that institutional knowledge of facilities is retiring at an increasing rate. As we worried about the future of facility management, another related sector also became a concern: skilled craftsmen and technicians. Mechanical techs, electricians and plumbers are increasingly sought after, and they are increasingly rare. While retirement of the aging workforce affects this group, something else is going on.
According to Building America’s Technical Workforce, a 2017 publication of the National Academic Press, pre-1960s high school vocational programs provided basic job training that included work-based learning and traditional school-based learning. Remember auto shop, woodshop, and metal shop? I do. I was in some of those classes. For many students, the classes provided scope for the imagination and a way to test one’s skills and perhaps even develop a talent. These vocational programs have largely gone away as schools have focused their education programs on college readiness. At the same time, the United States has developed a stigma against vocational school because it is seen as a less desirable alternative to a traditional college path. In actuality, a vocational education is much needed and can be a rewarding career choice. Unfortunately, it takes quite a bit longer for would-be vocational students to find their path to the building trades. In a recent meeting of educators and industry professionals, I was struck by three themes that threaded themselves through many of our conversations: Students need help with career navigation. When I first joined the group a few years ago, we were developing education programs for technicians. Community colleges were the target because they provide an ideal environment where students can access training through their local community resources, which is both more convenient and less expensive. That makes a lot of sense. But group members wondered if they could reach potential students earlier. Can we make being a building technician a career of choice? We need to be thinking about sending this message during high school and perhaps even middle school. Technicians wanted. Technicians — especially those with a good work ethic and a knack for troubleshooting and problem solving — are in high demand. Several members cited cases of students dropping out of programs early because of tempting offers of employment. They did not finish their training because the industry need is so great. Knowledge levels are sinking. Professors and instructors reported that the knowledge level of incoming students is lower than ever. Students require more basic training. Employers corroborate this observation and are looking for training programs for their new hires.
Technician Training For a New Era
Addressing the Maintenance and Engineering Knowledge Gap