Combatting the Skilled Worker Shortage: How Social Impact Can Help

In this episode, you'll learn about the skilled worker shortage across North America and how social impact can make a difference. We explore the current and future impacts, how career perceptions have changed surrounding skilled trade and what's currently being done to address these shortages. We also discuss the importance of social impact programs to find solutions.

Watch the episode:
Prefer to listen?


Read what we discussed

So, today we've got a great guest. Her name is Melissa Hazelwood. She's the director of Social Impact with Ferguson. Thank you very much, Melissa, for joining us today.

So, let's get right into this. Would you able to shed some light on, because we're talking about skilled worker shortage today.

Can you shed a little light on that shortage across North America?

What is the skilled worker shortage across North America?


Melissa Hazelwood:

Sure. Karl, so there was about 20 to 30 years where we really sent this consistent message to young people saying that there was only one path to success in life, and that was through a four-year degree.

One of my favorite quotes from our national partner, Mike Row Works Foundation, is

We've glorified the corner office, while we unintentionally minimized the people that built the corner office.


So, subsequently, we have this huge gap of workers with welders, and HVAC technicians, and plumbers and heavy equipment operators, and we don't have enough people to fill the opportunities out there.

So, that's where we're at with the skilled trade shortage.

Karl Yeh:

Yeah. And for example, when I was growing up, that was a big thing. It's the the only path or, well, from my parents' perspective, it's the only path, hey, get your degree, and that was it.

But you're right, you could see from various industries, especially here in Calgary where real estate is, and oil and gas is pretty big, there is always a skilled trade shortage.

Always. You always hear it, regardless if it's a recession or the economy's doing great. So, what type of workers are we talking about?

Is it just, can you describe a little bit more on the type of?

What type of positions are there a shortage of?


Melissa Hazelwood:

Sure. Yeah, absolutely.

As I mentioned, a lot of them are the traditional skill trades that we think of.

So, carpenters, contractors, construction workers, plumbers, welders.

But there's also a whole other side of it. There's healthcare workers.

That was very evident during the pandemic when there weren't enough healthcare workers to go around. And we're not just talking about doctors and nurses, it's everybody that works in a hospital, food service personnel.

So, all of these roles that don't necessarily need a four-year degree to get into, and to be successful, and to have a really lifelong career, there's a huge gap where we just can't fill the roles.

And we're still seeing some of that coming out of the pandemic. When you go to a restaurant, some of them are still closed in certain sections because they don't have enough people to work, and the same thing with hospitals and doctor's offices.

So, it really spans the spectrum. But when we think about skilled trade's careers, we think about folks that need additional certifications or additional training, but don't necessarily need a four-year degree.

Karl Yeh:

What are some of the causes of this shortage?

Melissa Hazelwood:

Well, I think it's a lot of what you experienced as a kid, your parents telling you that there was only one path to success.

Teachers and guidance counselors always pushing one path, when reality, there's two. So, I think that's the big one.

There's some other little things like we took shop class out of high schools and out of middle schools, and those were really the first avenues that students were having the opportunity to be exposed to the skilled trade.

So, I think that was a big one as well. And then one that's not only relegated to the trades, it's this huge mass exit of baby boomers from the workforce.

The National Electrical Contractors Association, they released this statistic. For every year, 7,000 new electricians are entering the workforce, but 10,000 are retiring.

So, there's a huge gap there. So, I think those are some of the key factors.

But I think the big one is just the PR around the trades or the education piece around the trades that we haven't necessarily done our due diligence with educating the guidance counselors and teachers and parents, and really demonstrating that there are two very good paths to success in life.

Karl Yeh:

Now, do you think today, though, the guidance counselors, and the teachers, and so on, they can see that shortage and it isn't just that one avenue anymore that they're pushing? I

s it more like, hey, there's a diverse set of streams of careers that people can get into?

Recognition of different career paths than just through college degrees

Melissa Hazelwood:


I think that it is getting better in some regard because I think, again, going back to the pandemic, we're seeing what is an essential worker?

What can people do where they can be outside and work with their hands and do something that is really meaningful and successful for them?

But I think it's dependent upon the school system, really and truly. I think some do it better than others.

For instance, in our own backyard, there is a school system where they know that 50% of their students don't go to college, so they have developed a really robust program for students that would like to pursue a trade, or a different career, or something other than a four-year degree. S

o, I think we're getting better. I still think we have a lot of work to do, but we are getting better.

Karl Yeh:

And I guess one more question on this is do you think from a pay perception, that's also changing?

Because I think, again, back to when I was growing up, I remember the perception was, oh, you won't get paid as much as a skilled trade versus somebody who has a college degree, but I don't think that's true anymore.

Has the perception of pay and compensation changed?


Melissa Hazelwood:

No, absolutely you're right.

I think students are coming out of high school and entering in the trades, and they're making anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000 year one, and that is not incurring any student loan debt.

And I think that huge number of student loan debt that's floating around right now is scaring a lot of parents and young people, and they're recognizing I don't need to do that.

So, yeah, I think the perception is absolutely changing.

I think more and more parents are recognizing that their kids can go and have a really good career without taking on huge mountains of debt.

Karl Yeh:

With this shortage, let's go back to the shortage, what is the current impact, I guess, today and into the future?

What are the impacts of skilled worker shortage today and into the future?


Melissa Hazelwood:

Oh, wow. I mean, they're far reaching.

And when you think about in your everyday life, your toilet breaks or your HVAC goes down, it takes longer to get somebody there.

It's more costly to get somebody there to fix it.

I think we're seeing increased wait times for buildings and home repairs, but then going back to other things, healthcare workers, doctor's offices, and getting the care that you need. It's harder to get in and it's not always readily available.

One of the things you go and think about Hurricane Ian, so talk about disaster relief. So, Hurricane Ian just wiped out a whole island in Florida.

It's going to take that community years, if not a decade, to rebuild.

We had a number of associates that were impacted by the campfires in California that were several years ago, and they're still rebuilding. So, the rebuilding time, certainly is a factor.

Karl Yeh:

Do you think, though, how during the pandemic, there's a lot of people who were sent home and then the rise of remote work.

Now, with skills trade, I don't know if that's had a massive impact, but that had an impact in that field and in all those fields? Because like you said, regardless of pandemic, our systems, our toilets, our whatever needs, they still need fixing.

There is a lot of things that people still need to show up. How has that impacted the shortage?

How has the pandemic impacted the shortage?


Melissa Hazelwood:

Yeah. I think it's twofold, really.

So, you talk about initially who was classified as an essential worker. Who still had to go to work?

Who still had the opportunity to still go to work and function?

Because America's infrastructure still needed taken care of. We still had to show up.

There's only so much you can do with technology in the skilled trade space that, it needs a human being. It needs somebody to actually do the job.

But then again, how can we develop technology to alleviate some of those misses or opportunities, I guess? And I think already in the skilled trades, we were pushing some more technology. You talk about modular homes.

Those were being built at an increasing rate because it's more efficient, it's better for the environment, it's built inside, so it helps your home. And it also cuts down the cost of housing.

So, I think some of those opportunities in the technology space that were coinciding with the skilled trades, the pandemic really shined a light on them and it pushed that even further.

How can we use artificial intelligence? How can we do a mobile app for technicians that will allow them to be in your home without being in your home?

And so, yeah, it's pushing both of those.

Karl Yeh:

So, Melissa, we've been talking a lot about what are the impacts, but I'm sure there's things that are being done today that are helping alleviate or trying to help alleviate. What are some of those things?

What's currently being done to alleviate the skilled worker's shortage?


Melissa Hazelwood:

Absolutely. We're looking at more non-traditional groups.

How can we get more women into the trades?

Women currently make up about 10% of the construction industry, so how can we alleviate some of the barriers that women face to get into the trades?

And so, they're developing programs with more services that cater to women.

So, women are typically in charge of childcare. And so, a lot of the programs that offer training also offer childcare. We're targeting more veterans.

So, veterans often have a hard time translating their skillsets from their time in the service to what does that look like in civilian life?

So, we're working on that.

And how can we provide them early training as they look to transition out of the service to transition directly into a trade, so there's minimal time in between their two separate careers?

There's a number of programs that work with youth in under-resourced communities.

They offer the training to the youth to become a builder, or mason, or a carpenter, and then take those skills back into their community to revitalize it.

So, it's win-win for both.

I think there are a lot of CTE schools that are bringing in employers to address the curriculum of their program. So, they talk to the employer and they say, "Hey, what should we teach so that these students are prepared to take roles within your company when they graduate?"

So, there's a lot of initial programs happening, but I think we really have to be in this for the long haul, and how can we address this and really rebuild that sustainable pipeline?

Karl Yeh:

Do you see career transitions to skilled trades from other fields? Is that something that's being either encouraged or is that an avenue that people are looking at too?

Transitions from other careers to skilled trade


Melissa Hazelwood:


I think more students that are graduating with a four-year degree are coming out and they aren't prepared to take a job, or they've just got a desk job where they're not fulfilled and they really didn't follow their passion.

Karl, the average age of an apprentice right now is 27 years old, when typically it needs to be around the 17, 18-year old mark.

So, you're seeing that, 27-year olds are getting into the workforce and their initial years after college and they're saying, "This isn't for me," and they're making that change.

Karl Yeh:

It's in interesting, because the reason why I thought about the question, a family friend of ours, he's been working, moving through TELUS and rising the ranks there, and I think one day it was like he was just tired of what he was doing.

So, yeah, he became a machinist, became an apprentice.

And today, I was just talking to him a couple about a week ago, he's so much happier doing that than what he was doing for I would say, I don't know, 10, 15 years. So, yeah, it's just interesting to see there is that path too.

Melissa Hazelwood:

I think I was talking to a similar circumstance. My cousin spent his first year of college in a hotel room because the dorms were full. So, he was just in there all the time and just realized, I don't want to do this.

And now he is studying to be an electrician. So, same thing. And he is very, very happy.

Karl Yeh:

So, let's bring back to social impact. So,

how can social impact and social impact professionals actually help alleviate this shortage?

How can social impact and social impact professionals help with a solution in addressing skilled work shortage?


Melissa Hazelwood:

Good question.

The saying goes, a rising tide lifts all ships. And I think a lot of companies and a lot of social impact professionals are engaging in workforce development dialogue. S

o, how can we all work together?

I mean, I think it's one of the things that we, as social impact professionals, do really well.

We like to work together. We like to collaborate. We like to partner.

So, how can we collectively work together, find the right partners to really move the needle in that space? And I think another piece of it needs to be about the broader conversation of education.

How can we pull workforce development for all careers, for all sectors, into that education conversation and better prepare students for careers for them that make sense for them, so they're happy and successful in their careers?

Karl Yeh:

How has Ferguson supported skilled trade?

Melissa Hazelwood:

So, we've done a number of things to address the PR side of it.

We've worked with partners to offer scholarships, to promote this path of this parallel path, if you will, right, to a four-year degree. It's wonderful.

It's successful. It might be for you, and so really addressing that with some of our partners.

And I think also one of the things that Ferguson does really well in the social impact space, and a lot of our peer companies do as well, is we try to show up authentically.

So, how can we use our experience, and our expertise, and our resources to help students?

So, how can we provide the tools and the trainings and the consumables that they need to learn with their hands? Because that's what they want to do.

That's why they want to promote this, or pursue this career in the trades, if you will. They want to work with their hands. They want to be active.

So, what can we do? How can we partner with our customers, and our suppliers, and our vendors to provide the tools and what the students need to learn and to grow in their field?

So, we're trying to really rebuild the pipeline of skilled trades professionals in the United States and work with our partners to move that needle.

Karl Yeh:

So, Melissa, we could talk about this for a while. Fascinating topic.

I know there's a lot to be done about skilled trade shortage, but if any of our audience want to connect with you, what's the best place to reach you?

Melissa Hazelwood:

Absolutely. I would be happy to connect with them.

They can email us.

That's the best way to go about it, at