In Durham, like across the country, we are facing a crisis in the skilled trades. Many of our skilled workers are aging out at a faster rate than new laborers are entering the career. From carpenters to electricians, North Carolina is facing a significant decline in skilled laborers, while the demand is reaching its peak. The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) recently conducted a survey of construction firms across the nation. According to Carolinas AGC, 93 percent of firms reported they’re having a hard time filling skilled trade positions, in comparison to 78 percent for other positions. North Carolina has become one of the states with the greatest need for skilled labor workers. Durham, in particular, is experiencing a building boom and companies are struggling to find skilled labor to complete their projects. This need is a result of the county’s growing population, relatively low-unemployment rate (prior to the pandemic), and the negative depiction of the skilled trades industry.
Adding to the lack of skilled laborers is the fact that many students and parents have become accustomed to the idea that success can only be achieved by obtaining a four-year degree from a college or university. However, we know that’s simply not true. Many still view the skilled trades industry as full of low-paying jobs with few opportunities for career advancement; however, that is not the case. In fact, the average skilled trades salary is 1.8 times the state’s median salary.
To address these concerns, local leaders in collaboration with Durham Public Schools have established a Skilled Trades Pathway that includes a pre-apprenticeship. The program offers a school-to-career pathway by offering skilled trades courses through Durham Public Schools and Durham Technical Community College and creating connections to apprenticeship and job opportunities with various companies throughout the Triangle area. For students whose career goals include a two- or four-year college degree, the program positions them for success in the post-secondary education pathway of their choice.
The creation of this programs is a reflection that leaders in Durham recognize the important role skilled trades careers play in our economy and society. The skilled trades sector touches so many aspects of our lives, from the houses we live in, to the cars we drive. Through the Skilled Trades Pathway program, we are shifting the narrative around skilled work in order to build the talent pipeline for local employers, while adding diversity to the sector and creating opportunities for Durham’s youth—including at-risk youth—to become gainfully employed.