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  • Writer's pictureConnexFM

Closing the Skills Gap

Promoting the trades as a viable career path helps the facilities management industry’s future.

By Rebecca Lubecki

Mike Rowe, "Dirty Jobs"
Mike Rowe, "Dirty Jobs"

Mike Rowe, known for his series “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel, said on his website: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 7 million jobs available across the country, the majority of which don’t require a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of ‘shovel-ready’ jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.” On his show, Rowe undertakes various labor-intensive tasks essential to our everyday lives yet often overlooked. From managing septic tanks to applying hot tar on roofs and disposing of medical waste, Rowe tackles these jobs that society tends to disregard, emphasizing the value of hard work.

ConnexFM and its Student and Educator Council advocates for the trades, inspiring younger individuals to explore career paths in plumbing, roofing and more as alternatives to traditional four-year degrees and office jobs. At the ConnexFM2024 National Conference, Rowe will join attendees as a special guest and will delve into the ongoing skills/employment gap faced by the facilities industry, the initiatives being undertaken to promote more tradespeople and the promising future of this crucial sector.


Addressing the Gap

Michael Zolton, Collin College
Michael Zolton, Collin College

A deeper dive into the data reveals that talent gaps are continuing to grow in the skilled trades sector, according to Michael Zolton, Professor of Facilities at Collin College and Co-Chair of the ConnexFM Student and Educator Council — especially as those currently working in those sectors are reaching retirement age.

“As the demands grow, resources have not met them,” Zolton said. “The trades, including professional roles like facilities management, have been subjected to somewhat negative stereotypes as being less prestigious or less intellectually demanding compared to other professional or white-collar careers like accounting, medicine or engineering. That stigma still exists.”

On top of that stigma of being “less prestigious,” Zolton added that the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to widening an already existing issue.

Rob Almond Jr., NEST
Rob Almond Jr., NEST

“We knew this was a problem for a long time, but after the peak of the pandemic, it was evident it was getting worse,” said Rob Almond Jr., CEO of NEST. “I’m speaking with 6,000 independent companies across the U.S. and Canada in the trades daily, and they say, ‘Rob, we need more help.’ We’re calling it the next pandemic. It’s that bad.”


Closing the Gap

James Bridges, Sales Manager at ACS Commercial Services and Co-Chair of the ConnexFM Student and Educator Council, hopes to address the disparity.

James Bridges, ACS Commercial Services
James Bridges, ACS Commercial Services

“I think it’s changing because people are starting to realize the importance of having skilled labor because if we don’t have it, many things come to a standstill,” Bridges said. “And I think the gap is closing in a lot of areas.”

Bridges added that shorter training, lower tuition and less debt upon graduation can help attract young adults to trade programs. “They also reach their potential at their job much quicker, which is what we need,” he said. “When students can reach that potential, they become much more valuable to the company and the customer.”

Without enough of these skilled workers, companies can experience delays and setbacks in their operations, resulting in lost profits and decreased productivity. This not only affects businesses but also impacts customers who rely on their services.

“I’ve got my master’s and undergrad degree, and I’m proud of it,” Almond said. “But if I had known what I know now, maybe I would have gone down a different path because I see the quality of workmanship out there, and, sometimes, it’s subpar. And it’s because we don’t have enough folks that know what they’re doing.”

This sentiment is echoed by many industry leaders who see a growing need for skilled workers in a variety of trades.

“Overall, it’s important that we reach everyone,” Zolton said. “Every student’s interest is different, and we, as a society, have been pushing them all into the same funnel. Training programs need to be seen as equal avenues for success. High school counselors need to be well-informed and present. Trades programs, workforce facilities management, construction and safety careers are on par with accounting and engineering, four-year-degree careers and advanced education careers. That effort is critical to continue.”


Shaping the Future of Trades Through Mentorship

The ConnexFM Student and Educator Council was established because while encouraging younger adults to look outside the traditional four-year degree helps them widen their options, promoting the trades also benefits all parties involved, ensuring mutual advantages.

“When we open students up to mentorships or even apprenticeships, it gives them many more options. The main thing we’re doing as a council is providing guidance across the board,” Bridges said. “We have looked at bringing in a mixture of people from both sides of the business. There’s so much depth there.”

Almond emphasized that everybody, on both the multi-site facilities management and the supplier sides, succeed when working together to help fill the employment gap.

He encourages people to think of a hospital, for example. “If the power in that building goes out, we are in trouble, right? People are literally on life support through the electricity that’s powering the building,” he said. “We propose to these kids: ‘Imagine if you were the one that helped contribute to installing the backup generator.’ That’s how we should look at it. And the kids reply, ‘Wow, I never thought of it that way. Maybe I will go down that path.’ That’s really where we’re trying to elevate the message.” 


Changing Minds

There is a significant stigma associated with vocational schools and trades for Gen Z, according to Jobber’s Blue-Collar Report.

74% of respondents say that there’s a stigma associated with going to a vocational school over a traditional four-year university.

79% of respondents say their parents want them to pursue a college education after high school, and only 5% say the same about vocational school.


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