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Opinion: In DIY world, need for skilled workers remains

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In a world of do-it-yourself and how-to videos, anyone can learn to change a faucet or rewire an electrical outlet. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone complain about the cost of an electrician or plumber.

Why pay so much when you can figure it out on your own? The answer: Training, or lack thereof.

To become a master electrician or the equivalent in other skilled trades, employees must work an approved number of hours to move from being an apprentice with supervision to a master who can work on their own. Businesses also allow a journeyman to work without supervision as long as they are employed by or work under a master level worker.

Even if you have past experience or the skills to complete a project, it doesn’t always mean you should. Hiring a skilled worker will ensure you finish a project quickly, correctly and efficiently without the fear of costly repairs after the fact – because other perks of hiring a skilled professional include time, permits, insurance and liability.

Although the city of Springfield offers an easy checklist on its Building Development Services web page, hiring out the project ensures you have the proper paperwork and permits in place without the additional time needed for research. A person trying to work on a project on their own generally will take longer to complete it, and they may never need to do again. But if you try to do it yourself, you’re personally responsible for any possible damages.

Whether it’s fixing the original problem or repairing your DIY job, the need for skilled workers isn’t going away.

According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, an experienced electrician in the Springfield metropolitan statistical area makes an annual wage of $61,330. The average worker in Greene County made $41,803 in 2017, according to MERIC.

The need for electricians, structural iron and steel workers, welders, pipe layers, carpenters, plumbers, solar photovoltaic installers and other skilled trades is still on the rise through 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although all industries are struggling to find enough workers – there currently are more jobs available than people to fill them – the trades are one of the industries that have faced additional roadblocks with workforce development over the years.

With construction booming throughout the Springfield area from small projects to infrastructure and large commercial developments, the industry has continued to focus on workforce development. Building stronger relationships with key partners, including public schools, helps draw interest in high school students who are choosing their career paths. An increase in the talent pipeline is needed to ensure there is enough manpower to quickly help with projects large and small.

Businesses and schools are now recognizing the need for skilled workers along with the viability of trade positions as a lifetime career path. In 2018, progress was made in building more partnerships between education and the industry.

Starting the year off with a Counselor Focus Group at the Springfield Contractors Association, industry professionals and counselors discussed the myths and realities of student interest in the trades, along with counselor support of careers in construction. The opportunity of Springfield Public Schools pursuing an Architecture and Construction Academy has opened more doors to show the reality of skilled trades to students. Springfield Contractors Association members, including Branco Enterprises Inc., J.E. Dunn Construction Co. and Terracon Consultants Inc., have visited freshmen to offer hands-on learning experiences and information about the variety of construction jobs available.

Students learn the career paths available, from going straight to work for on-the-job training, joining an apprenticeship program, attending a two-year college or going to a four-year university. Such variety allows students to choose their best format for learning.

With schools and industry professionals working together to train more skilled workers, we can now look to the next step in creating a larger workforce – connecting parents with information on the lifetime buying power of workers in the industry.

The increase in support from educational institutions, businesses and the community as a whole will help with the shortage of skilled workers over time to ensure someone is available the next time you opt to hire a skilled worker instead of trying a DIY project.

Megan Short is the executive director of the Springfield Contractors Association. She can be reached at megan@springfieldcontractors.org.

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