Almost a decade ago, I wrote an editorial titled, “We Have a Problem America.” I had recently listened to a radio talk show that dealt with problems in the United States. The group of panelists was all convinced the prime issue for America was the lack of college students—and in particular graduates. It was hardly surprising to hear this view, as the panel was university educators and politicians. The message they were sending was loud and clear: without higher education, you are a failure in life. My editorial dealt with the growing disrespect given to the blue-collar worker.
It’s clear that Donald Trump has struck a chord with a mass of people. Interview after interview revealed blue-collar workers expressing frustration from being forgotten and ignored. In retrospect, the campaign slogan was heard by skilled craft workers who felt they lost their place in respect to American society. “Make America Great Again” made blue-collar workers think about those same professors I heard on the radio panel. Even when Trump spoke and asked disenfranchised America the question, “What do you have to lose?” I think many blue-collar workers of America heard him again.
The Democratic Party has traditionally been the party of labor. While union leaders were supporting Clinton, it appears many rank and file workers felt differently. In addition, with being down to 10 percent market share, unions likely over estimated their impact on the election. While I cannot explain how a billionaire from an elite school could connect with the blue-collar workers, it is undeniable that he did exactly that.
If he follows through on what he promised, things could change. After any election, there’s also anxiety about what the next term will be like. Could things get better? An example would be our own construction industry that has become bloated with well-intended but overzealous regulations and risk juxtaposed to the severe shortage of skilled labor for the future.
Most skilled construction work today is performed by workers that had come into the trades with little to no proper training at their craft. Traditionally, the country relied on labor unions for this training. It worked as they had significant market share and their programs reached virtually all workers. Even most open shop workers came from these programs. The programs worked well and they were vital to building America. Today is a new world; 90 percent of younger workers on construction sites have never been in any apprenticeship program. Is it time to re-think how we will attract and train the next generation of skilled workers?
Those blue collar workers seemed to have spoken with their votes and now the question is what will President Trump do? He is a builder. He is likely to comprehend the change needed in construction trends and secure a future for American skilled trade workers more succinctly than politicians. Could we be in for a fundamental shift in the method of recruiting, training and funding American skilled construction trades?
A Look Overseas
I recently was in Europe and had some interesting meetings with the European Union. We exchanged information and compared the state of the construction trades for America and Europe. Turns out, the E.U. has had similar issues attracting young people to the trades and a lack of training. The E.U. decided they had to change direction. In 2013, they announced funding plans to attract and train apprenticeship with a commitment of €80 billion to the open shop market over the next decade. The data I found from the U.S. side is not quite so impressive. Most funds in the United States are still directed toward the historically established programs and neglect 90 percent of the market. We did away with wood and metal shop as we shifted funds to more trendy programs. This hurt recruitment for construction. How does America plan to overcome the shortage of skilled workers needed for construction?
Maybe President Trump will alter the status quo and divert funds. What will President Trump and his administration do? It is anyone’s guess. He might shift away from established and shrinking apprenticeship programs to reach the masses. Consider the fact that as England prepares to exit the E.U., they are implementing the Apprenticeship levy starting May 2017, to address a similar training problem America is experiencing. While this major re-shift in training may seem unthinkable, so did a President Trump prior to November 2016.