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Addressing the Labor Shortage: Why programs like SkillsUSA are critical to construction, manufacturing industries

Submitted by Jenny Hull on

Data from the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) has suggested that 41% of all construction and manufacturing professionals will retire by 2031, resulting in a large exodus in the industry and leaving significant gaps in the workforce.

The solution seems simple: hire more young workers to fill the gaps. But that’s easier said than done.

According to Associated Builders and Contractors, the industry will need to hire “an estimated 546,000 additional workers on top of the normal pace of hiring in 2023 to meet the demand for labor.”

Looking at the numbers, the outlook for the construction and manufacturing industry seems, frankly, grim. But the good news? A growing number of companies and organizations are investing in workforce development, including efforts targeted specifically toward younger generations.

SkillsUSA, for example, attracts about 15,000 attendees to its National Leadership & Skills Conference, where more than 6,500 middle-school, high-school, and postsecondary students compete in over 100 different hands-on competitions—including a carpentry competition hosted by NCCER in partnership with ClarkDietrich.

For years, ClarkDietrich has supported the carpentry competition through the donation of supplies. In this year’s competition, the student competitors built the front of a miniature house with a steel framing insert, which included ProTRAK and ProSTUD® framing members and our SwiftClip™ connectors.

“Although we play just a small role, this competition is an extremely valuable opportunity—not only to get our name out there and help familiarize prospective building contractors with our products but also to invest in the future of our industry,” said Jennifer Edgar, Vice President of Marketing at ClarkDietrich. “We’re grateful to see so many organizations coming together to teach the next generation how to safely and efficiently build.”


Before the competition began, the students learned how to safely handle and cut steel framing members. Then, they were off—cutting and installing everything from rafters and fascia board to stairs, using only blueprints as their guide.

“It’s an amazing thing to see,” said Jake Reece, Marketing Content Manager for ClarkDietrich. “You read about the labor shortages the industry is facing, but then you see hundreds of high-school students spending a portion of their summer break learning to create things with their hands, getting valuable experience in craftsmanship. It gives you hope.”

One of the factors impacting the current labor shortage is the societal push toward college education over trade schools.

“In the United States, since the passage of the 1944 GI Bill, college has been pushed over vocational education. This college-for-all narrative has been emphasized for decades as the pathway to success and stability; parents might worry about the future of their children who choose a different path,” Meg St-Esprit reported in The Atlantic.

But college is not the only path toward a successful career.

One of the biggest defenses for trade schools is the cost. Many trades require just two years of vocational education and training, and the cost of attending such a school is often significantly less than a four-year university. Not only do trade students tend to have little to no debt when they graduate, but they are also able to begin earning at a younger age.

“Lack of knowledge and misconceptions about the trades can lead parents to steer their kids away from these programs when vocational training might be a surer path to a stable job. … If students are exposed to the possibility of vocational training early on, that might help remove some of the stigma, and help students and parents alike see a variety of paths to a successful future,” St-Esprit wrote.

Programs like SkillsUSA are doing important work to introduce construction and manufacturing as viable career paths to students, teachers, and parents.

“NCCER is proud to support the SkillsUSA National Carpentry Competition with help from ClarkDietrich and all of our industry sponsors,” said Boyd Worsham, NCCER President and Chief Executive Officer. “These SkillsUSA students represent the best in their craft, and many will become future leaders in our workforce. It’s vital that we keep them engaged and connected to opportunities that lead to life-changing careers in construction.”