Living Smart: Why should you care about the skilled trade shortage?

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Its a fact that Im not handy. When I need something done at home, I use the proven service providers I found on the list that bears my name.

Im grateful for the skilled professionals who use their hands and their heads to solve our home maintenance and improvement challenges. Where would we be without them?

Unfortunately, we may be about to find out.

Statistics show, and anecdotal evidence from service companies confirms, that were experiencing a shortage of skilled trade workers. And with fewer workers entering the workforce than are leaving, due to Baby Boomer-era retirements and other factors, the problem is likely to worsen.

This is especially true as the shortage corresponds with a significant number of unskilled homeowners. A Harris Poll we commissioned this year found that almost 40 percent of younger homeowners admitted theyve delayed home maintenance because they lack DIY ability.

My team recently researched a report that reveals what the shortage of skilled electricians means for consumers. Last year we examined the issue involving skilled trades as a whole, and found that service companies were having trouble hiring qualified workers.

The end result for consumers? Longer waits and higher prices for quality work by qualified plumbers, electricians, carpenters and other skilled tradesfolk.

This may seem like a problem none of us can solve. But I believe we can do more than we might initially assume.

First of all, lets agree not to take the trades for granted. Some observers and service company owners believe a general devaluing of skilled labor a societal stigma, even is one reason for the shortage.

Look around where you live. Do vocational education opportunities exist? Is that an issue you might get involved in? Do you have a skill set you could pass on to the next generation?

Perhaps you can encourage a young person, or someone making a career change, to consider the trades. Dont assume that working with ones hands pays less, or is less satisfying, than other work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, electricians can expect a median pay of $49,840 per year 43 percent higher than the national median across all jobs with only a high school diploma required to become an apprentice.

A homeowner told us that shes willing to spend more for higher quality work by a provider who pays extra to keep good employees. "Its worth paying to have someone who knows what theyre doing, and can do it right the first time. That saves you time, saves you money," she said. "It saves your sanity."