With the unemployment rate in Nevada at the lowest it has ever been, it may come as a surprise that the skilled labor work force in Northern Nevada is facing a shortage of approximately 10,000 workers.
Aaron West, CEO of Nevada Builders Alliance, said the shortage is partially because of the lack of young people going into skilled labor jobs. He said young people have been told that success is a four-year college degree and they are attending college instead of entering the workforce.
Jesse Olson, general manager of The Happy Outlet, a residential service firm in Carson City, has experienced the same shortage. The company rebranded to The Happy Outlet after being known as Sierra Nevada Electric since 2000. Their new goal is to focus on homeowner service and customer service. As part of the rebranding mission, Olson said he wants to hire only the most professional, experienced and customer service oriented workers, however that has become a growing difficulty.
“Right now they are saying that by 2020 there are going to be 30 million unfilled skilled worker jobs,” Olson said. “There is a real lack of anybody going into the trade. As for us, we are employing experienced people and we know we need to help train them because there is a lack of skilled people. We want people who want to be in the trade.”
Olson attributes the lack of interested workers to a perception of the trade as being dirty and not paying well.
“The economy in 2008 didn’t help either,” said Olson. “What happened was, there was no work, so people my age moved away to go where work was or went back to school to do something different. The older guys who I learned from are all retiring now, those are the baby boomers that are all retiring and not working anymore.”
Olson said young people are pushed heavily toward going to college after high school and often do not know there are other paths they could pursue.
West agrees, adding, “we need to start changing the perception that you need a college degree. We need to tell kids that it is OK to get an entry-level job. Kids have it in their heads that they are going to wait to work until they have a four-year degree.”
West said before the recession there were around 33,000 skilled workers in Northern Nevada and today there are approximately 21,000. Of those, 22 percent are skilled workers over the age of 55, with only 7 percent under the age of 24, West said.
“We are not replacing folks and now there is an increased demand for houses and with more commercial businesses coming into the area, there is more demand for commercial construction work,” West said.
Olson also said there is a growing demand for service work. The Happy Outlet does work in south Reno and Carson City, however they plan to expand their services to include the Valley since Olson sees a growing demand in Minden and Gardnerville.
West partially blamed the education system for pushing kids toward college by telling them there is no sense in working until you have a four-year college degree.
“The truth of the matter is that 1 in 5 kids drop out of high school and in the 100 percent of students who graduate high school, only 15 percent get their four-year degree, yet our education system is set on sending everyone to college,” West said.
Olson has a long-term plan to help combat the low number of young people interested in the trade. He plans to have a Happy Outlet University, where students would be taught residential skills and customer service training. In the meantime, Olson said they would like to be a part of some of the career days at local high schools and to do something with Western Nevada College to encourage students to look into pursuing the trade.