Manufacturers Should Capitalize on the Recent Trend Toward Skilled Trades

Scott Dieckgraefe Uncategorized

The skilled trades are currently experiencing a sort of renaissance – a reversal of a trend that had held for decades. This article explores how this occurred, the benefits those seeking careers in the trades can expect, and how manufacturers can take advantage of the current resurgence of the skilled trades.

For two generations, four-year college degrees were touted as the only path to prosperity while the skilled trades were stigmatized – the whole “white collar/blue collar” dichotomy. There were a host of reasons why this occurred – some social, many political – but the end result saw the removal of technical education classes from high schools throughout the country and, therefore, the steady erosion of the skilled trades workforce. For years, the manufacturing sector suffered from this effect, a situation only exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. Thankfully, however, that trend is being reversed due to a new social mindset and some basic financial realities.

Post-pandemic, trade schools have been in demand while college enrollment has declined. Perhaps this is not surprising considering how mitigating student debt has become a political issue in recent years. According to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the U.S. government’s national center for education statistics, the average tuition and fees for a four-year degree in 2021-2022 were $19,800 per year, or over $79,000 for four years. By contrast, in 2022-2023, the average annual cost of completing a trade school certification was $15,070.

But it’s not just the reduced costs that have made pursuit of a skilled trade so appealing to young people. Vocational school students can expect:

  • Flexible schedules and easy access to trade schools – without the room and board costs associated with traditional colleges.
  • Faster entry into the workforce – vocational programs typically take less time to complete and provide early, hands-on, practical experience.
  • High demand from employers, leading to many opportunities and job security.
  • An opportunity to begin earning immediately, possibly through an apprenticeship while still in training, and to earn a higher salary faster than their cohorts who complete a standard four-year degree.
  • High average salaries. According to ZipRecuriter, “the average salary for plumbers nationwide ($63,215) is slightly higher than those for electricians ($61,391) and HVAC technicians ($58,782). Salaries for all three trades seem to increase most rapidly before they reach the intermediate level.”
  • Industry connections – networking opportunities through employer/school partnerships.
  • Upward mobility and/or entrepreneurial opportunities – careers in the trades pay well and many skilled professionals opt to start their own small businesses.
  • Physical skilled work is less likely to be rendered obsolete by AI

These benefits and a high demand have not only created a surge in interest from students but have also led to the reintroduction of CTE (career and technical education) into school districts. A federal funding program called Perkins V provides support for this push. In 2023, 47 states enacted policies that created CTE offices.

All of this is good news for manufacturers who’ve been hampered by a shortage of skilled workers.

Now is the time for them to aggressively campaign to this emerging class of workers – before, during, and after their vocational training. Here are some ways manufacturers should capitalize on the surge in skilled trade students:

  • If they haven’t already, manufacturers should use their social media platforms and other communication channels to raise awareness about manufacturing careers, showcasing success stories and the exciting aspects of the industry.
  • Reach out to their local or regional CTE office in an advisory role.
  • Invite high school and vocational students and their parents to attend information sessions to dispel myths about manufacturing jobs and highlight the career opportunities available.
  • Engage in “Adopt-a-School” programs with specific schools providing resources, mentorship, and support to help develop industry-specific curricula and training programs.
  • Sponsor vocational programs or courses, ensuring that the training aligns with their specific needs and industry standards.  This can even extend to extracurricular clubs and activities.
  • Offer apprenticeship and internship programs to students to provide hands-on experience while earning a wage.
  • Organize career days where representatives from the manufacturing industry visit schools to talk about career opportunities, skills required, and the benefits of working in manufacturing.
  • Conduct workshops to give students experience in manufacturing techniques and processes.
  • Donate equipment or technology to the schools and provide access to their manufacturing facilities for training and educational purposes.
  • Conduct mentorship programs by pairing students with experienced employees who can provide guidance and insight into the manufacturing industry.
  • Send experienced employees to schools to act as guest lecturers and presenters.
  • Invite schools and students to participate in project-based learning opportunities where they can work on real-world manufacturing projects.
  • Conduct on-campus job fairs and recruitment events.
  • Work with educators to develop curricula that meet the needs of the manufacturing industry, ensuring students gain relevant skills.
  • Help establish certification programs that provide students with recognized credentials that are valued in the industry.

The key for manufacturers is to act now to take advantage of the upsurge in the skilled trades pipeline. Trends are fickle things and can even reverse. It behooves manufacturers to get active now through engaging in some of the outreach we’ve presented here.

Studio/D has decades of experience in communicating to and for manufacturers with strategies and tactics designed to help them succeed. We “speak manufacturing” because we are makers ourselves. If you are a manufacturer looking to engage with vocational schools or vice-versa we can help.

Studio/D is a full-service marketing communications firm working with mid-market industrial and manufacturing clients, together with companies that support the manufacturing ecosystem. We’re a team of “makers” who simplify complex communication challenges with messaging that engages and drives results. Learn more about us at, or call our president, Scott Dieckgraefe at 314-200-2630.