Trades aren’t the past, they may well be the future
2017 saw a plethora of articles on how artificial intelligence will disrupt jobs in the future. Artificial intelligence is the theory that computer systems can perform tasks that normally require human intelligence. Forbes, the Globe and Mail, the Economist, just to name a few, told us what jobs are in jeopardy because of AI. Jobs like lawyers, accountants, surgeons, logistics professionals, apparently are all in danger of disappearing. If you think it’s scary to think robots will be doing surgery, be very afraid now - because it’s already happening.
Interesting in their absence from those lists of jobs that AI will disrupt are jobs like electricians, carpenters, and plumbers. These are the very important jobs that require not only brains but the ability to work with your hands, to be able to put on steel-toed boots and actually build or fix something. If you live in Vancouver or even anywhere in British Columbia, these jobs are going to be around for a long time to come. Report after report is showing that in multiple industries, including construction and manufacturing, skilled tradespeople are becoming an increasingly scarce resource. For companies, this means they can’t grow, as reported in the Globe and Mail. Closer to home, this shortage is having an even more drastic impact. Developers are struggling to find enough skilled tradespeople to build homes in Metro Vancouver, which as industry insiders say drives up the cost and the time it takes to build these units of housing we desperately need. Not only is there a shortage of workers now, most that are working will be retiring within 20 years. This means that on top of us millennials having to pay the rising costs of continuing care for those over 65 ($184.2 billion by 2042 as compared to $29.3 billion now), there’s going to be hardly any of us with the vital skills to keep our economy going. This is an extremely worrisome nation-wide crisis that is going to have to be addressed, otherwise Vancouver, and Canada in general, will become one big retirement village.
A lot of people choose career paths because they want to make a difference, or because they want to do something that’s cutting edge and exciting. It’s time we opened our eyes to see those qualities in the trades. I’d say entering the construction world and building the homes Metro Vancouver desperately needs while putting affordable roofs over peoples’ heads makes a difference. This isn’t even considering that so much of the development happening in Vancouver is some of the most innovative and interesting around the world. If you’re not picking a trade that pushes you towards construction sites, then chances are you’ll be working in one of those manufacturing companies that’s building innovative new products or perfecting old ones. There’s countless other careers that require a skill, so having a skill moving forward is a very good bet. An interesting debate is what will constitute a “trade” or a “skill” in the next few years. In my eyes, I can see coding and software engineering being as vital to our economy as a carpenter on a job site, so I think policy should be moving towards making certified training in those “new trades” more accessible for all.
Going to university or college is great - and statistics do show that over time a post-secondary education increases earnings potential - but it is not for everybody. If there is a perception that choosing the trades route is a Plan B for people, that is blatantly wrong. There should be no stigma about going into the trades. The trades are the builders, the fixers, and the glue that keeps our economy running and will keep our citizens housed for the foreseeable future. Besides, if we are to believe the articles being written about all those white-collar jobs being replaced by artificial intelligence, the trades people just may be the last ones standing.