Skilled trades - those careers that require hands-on work and specialty knowledge – have been in high demand for a long time.
In 2019, Industrial Safety & Hygiene News reported that retiring baby boomers in the skilled trades were outpacing new employees by a rate of 5 to 1, estimating that there were nearly half a million more jobs than there were workers available to fill them.
Fast forward to 2020 and the demand is still there, despite the economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If anything, the pandemic has increased the demand for workers in the skilled trades in Lancaster County, says Trevor Smith, business services representative for PA CareerLink Lancaster County.
“I’m finding that employers in the skilled trades realm definitely have increased demand for employees because demand for these services/products has increased tremendously during the pandemic,” Smith says. “Demand is also projected to increase going into the holiday season, so employers are very much in need for skilled trades men and women.”
Among the most in-demand jobs are electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, welders, metal workers, iron workers, steelworkers, facilities maintenance workers, IT/tech support, and construction industry positions including general laborers, labor helpers, equipment operators and roofers, Smith says.
One reason for the demand for IT, plumbing, construction and electrician jobs, he says, is the increased need for residential service due to the volume of people working and learning from home as a result of COVID-19.
At Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, COVID-19 and its resulting shutdown initially took a toll on students, says Laurie Grove, director of career services. While 70% to 75% of students typically have jobs lined up by the time they graduate in May, less than 35% had landed jobs at that point this year, she says, due to a slowdown in the construction industry. Also hard hit were students who typically have summer internships between their freshman and sophomore years.
However, once construction resumed this summer, things changed quickly.
“We saw a rapid increase in the number of jobs available to our students and grads. Probably by the middle to end of August, most of those grads solidified jobs,” Grove says. “Since mid-August on, the demand has increased to a level that we’re actually having a hard time keeping up.
As a point of comparison, Grove says, 144 employers recruited to fill 405 jobs between Sept. 1 and Oct. 31, 2019. Since Sept. 1 of this year, she says, 222 employers have recruited to fill 645 jobs, an increase of 59% from last year.
The pandemic and the demand for workers in the skilled trades has helped other employment sectors in Lancaster County too, Smith says.
“Manufacturing has had a huge demand as well,” Smith adds, noting the need for food, personal care supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as the tools and supplies that those high-demand skilled trades workers need to serve their customers. “There is also an increase in online sales due to consumers ordering items on the internet.”
Locally, available jobs include warehouse workers, various machine operators, line workers and other production employees.
That increased demand for workers in the skilled trades and manufacturing means greater demand in the logistics and transportation industries as well, Smith says.
“With all of that being said, the pandemic has certainly placed employers in a very unique situation, and PA CareerLink has been working with employers to address their needs for sourcing talent,” he says.