January 5, 2023
Justin Mwandjalulu, 20, loves to build stuff.
These days, as a carpentry apprentice, he installs drywall in houses with the rest of his construction crew. But he said he likes concrete the best.
“At the end of the day, you see how you poured everything. The result of your hard work,” he said.
Mwandjalulu dreamed of becoming a carpenter or electrician as a child. And now he’s fulfilling that dream. But that also makes him an exception to the rule. While Gen Z — often described as people born between 1997 and 2012 — is on track to become the most educated generation, fewer young folks are opting for traditionally hands-on jobs in the skilled trade and technical industries.
Gen Z interest in trades and skilled work has dropped
The application rate for young people seeking technical jobs — like plumbing, building and electrical work — dropped by 49% in 2022 compared to 2020, according to data from online recruiting platform Handshake shared with NPR.
Researchers from Handshake tracked how the number of applications for technical roles vs. the number of job postings has changed over the last two years.
While postings for those roles — automotive technicians, equipment installers and respiratory therapists, to name a few — saw on average 10 applications each in 2020, they got about five per posting in 2022.
The typical rate is about 19 applications per job on Handshake, according to Christine Cruzvergara, the company’s chief education strategy officer.
While the creation of technical positions has continued to grow, the number of students interested in applying for them — hasn’t.
Occupations such as auto technician with aging workforces have the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warning of a “massive” shortage of skilled workers in 2023.
“For a long time, our society has not talked favorably about the skilled trades,” said Cruzvergara. “We’ve instead encouraged students to all go to college, all go to four-year institutions, graduate, go out into white collar jobs.”