SAN ANTONIO — They’re in high demand and can easily crack the six-figure salary mark without a college degree. But not enough young people are going into skilled trade careers.
The U.S. labor shortage is playing a major role in the ongoing supply chain disruptions impacting many industries. But the shortage was affecting the trades long before the pandemic hit.
According to PeopleReady Skilled Trades, a company connecting businesses with skilled laborers, the shortage of tradespeople has worsened during the pandemic. In a recent report, there were 388,345 jobs posted for skilled trades-related workers between May and June. The company said that amounts to a 50% increase from pre-pandemic levels.
This comes as more baby boomers quit the workforce in 2020. According to the Pew Research Center, about 28.6 million baby boomers retired in the third quarter of 2020, 3.2 million more boomers who called it a career during the same window of time the previous year.
An analysis by PeopleReady Skilled Trades found that these jobs are in most need of workers.
- Plumber apprentices
- Roofer apprentices
- Carpenter helpers
- Carpentry apprentices
- Construction workers
- Electrician helpers
KENS 5 is highlighting local skilled workers who hold some of these high-demand positions.
Jake Rankin, 35, is a construction manager in the San Antonio area. Inspired to enter the field by his dad, a builder and contractor, Rankin said he started attending college and paid for tuition out of his own pocket.
But he decided to the ditch the debt and pursue construction jobs, starting out as a trim carpenter and worked his way up to his current role.
“I will be a six-figure income in my position,” said Rankin. “It’s been incredible. It’s allowed me and my family to be virtually debt-free and not have that hanging over our head. We’ve been able to live a great, comfortable life for such a young family.”
He said tradespeople tend to be falsely viewed as uneducated and unskilled.
“If you’ve ever worked beside any of these skilled trades, you would see they know more than most people would ever give them credit for,” he said.
Rankin said during the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction industry didn’t slow down but accelerated. He said his company will close over 300 homes this year, and they’re on track to close 500 next year.
“A lot of people were wanting to leave the multi-unit housing. With interest rates being low, we had a lot of first-time buyers wanting to get a house financed and were able to afford it. Then, people started working from home. They wanted a more comfortable working situation,” he explained. “It’s a great industry to be in. It’s not just a place to earn a paycheck, it’s a place to earn a career."
Jason Gutierrez, a 25-year-old electrician/service technician with Mister Sparky, said he was eager to jump right into work instead of going to college. He started off assisting electricians before ascending to a supervisory role.
“The younger you start, the easier it is. The less challenging it is to climb that ladder over time,” he said.
Mister Sparky said the annual earning potential for Gutierrez's position ranges between $80,000 and $200,000.
“The sky’s the limit. There’s no set hours or set salary like that,” said Gutierrez. “There’s a lot of potential in this as a young adult.”
James Bump, 35, is a master plumber and owner of Tietze Plumbing. He used to work for Boeing before transitioning to his current trade, advancing quickly from an apprenticeship to master plumber.
“I love the guys I work with. They’re family. Customers are family,” Bump said. “Having the satisfaction of helping people out, and my guys—we all go home and support our families. That’s success to me.”
Bump said there’s a growing shortage of skilled plumbers, an issue underscored over the last year by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The business is there, labor is not. So getting the younger generation in is definitely key," he said. "Trying to get them in, knowing that you can make money without going to college and you can help people."
Construction Careers Academy
Over at Northside ISD’s Construction Careers Academy (CCA), they’re helping to train a new generation of tradespeople. They cover occupations in fields such as carpentry, electrical trades, HVAC, plumbing/pipefitting, welding, architecture, construction management and engineering. Students can earn industry-recognized credentials, college credit and land internships.
KENS 5 spoke with a student who’s interested in plumbing and hopes to own his own business one day.
“I’m already plumbers-apprenticed right now, and without CCA that wouldn’t be possible,” said 17-year-old Garrett Hermes. "I know it’s going to take me far in life.”
It’s helped 21-year-old Ricardo Longoria, a 2019 CCA graduate, launch his own career. He’s now a foreman plumber and works for Morton Buildings.
While he would like to eventually go back to school, Longoria said his job has provided him a comfortable life. He said the annual earning potential for his position ranges between $60,000 and $70,000, and advises young people interested in the trades to always be willing to grow and do your best.
“There’s always room to expand and to grow,” Longoria said. “Just give it your all and life will teach you stuff that college wont teach you. This industry is about life.”
John Alvarez, who teaches the plumbing class at CCA, is also the owner of Coach’s Plumbing. He said he tells his students to explore their options. He paid for his college degree at UTSA with his plumbing job. Alvarez said he chose to attend college because he was the only one out of eight siblings to attend and graduate college.
“Hopefully, I do serve as a role model to my students and motivate them to do the same. College is always an option for people,” he said. “The trade needs young, motivated kids like this and so, that’s what drives me. I’m just happy to be able to share a tad bit of what has brought success for me to my students.”