A Pathway to Young Talent

“Savvy companies should pursue promising talent with insight and purpose. The rewards are likely to be rich.”

authors Eliot Sefrin | September 24, 2020

Kitchen and bath design firms seeking a pathway to eager, young talent could do themselves a huge favor by implementing a common-sense outreach effort that connects their business to area high schools.

That’s because at the same time that skilled-labor shortages remain a critical challenge for many design and construction firms, the longtime stigma associated with careers in the skilled trades – including those in the kitchen and bath industry – is apparently diminishing significantly among high school students (see related story, Page 20).

To wit, according to new research conducted by the National Kitchen & Bath Association among a nationally representative sample of high school students, about half of those surveyed said they are “receptive” to the possibility of at least one skilled trade, while fewer than a quarter expressed concern that their parents or peers would view such careers “negatively.”

Particularly compelling is the NKBA’s finding that nearly all the students surveyed said they have “at least a few friends” who are considering skilled-trade careers, while the top perceived benefits of a kitchen and bath career include the opportunity to own and build a business and/or create functional and beautiful designs that meaningfully impact clients’ lives.

Interest is said to be nearly equal between male and female students, although females lean toward careers tied to design, while males are generally more interested in the potential for business entrepreneurship. The burgeoning tech sector, with its plethora of cutting-edge advancements aimed at the home, seems especially enticing, with smart home and AV/security specialty trades ranking near the top in appeal among all the skilled trades.

Equally compelling than those findings is how the NKBA’s research dovetails with the desire for a growing number of young people to seek fulfilling alternative career paths that enable them to dodge the exorbitant costs of college and the resultant, often debilitating, student debt.

The NKBA, to its credit, has been involved for more than a year in a “NextUp” program, aimed at attracting young talent to careers in the kitchen and bath trade. The program, among other components, encourages NKBA-member firms to provide information and introductions to the industry, including mentorships and internships. “Career Tours” are also provided to schools at no cost.

Companies throughout the kitchen and bath industry would be well-served to follow the NKBA’s lead on this promising recruitment front – the sooner, the better. Early exposure to skilled trades is apparently highly beneficial, the NKBA found, noting for example that about half the students contacted became interested in potential kitchen/bath industry careers prior to high school. Many high schoolers said they wished they’d had earlier exposure, the NKBA added. Many said they’d welcome additional information, including how to receive training in running their own business.

For years, the pipeline for skilled trades has been clogged, due largely to the elimination of shop classes and vocational training at many high schools. But, clearly, there are ways around that.

Businesses can build pathways to eager, young talent by participating in high school career days and offering field trips to kitchen and bath design firms and technical colleges. One-on-one “day-at-work” visits with skilled tradespeople and creating opportunities to meet successful kitchen and bath professionals would also be enormously helpful, the NKBA points out.

There’s a vast pool of potential young talent out there waiting to be tapped at the same time that the need for skilled trade professionals remains acute, and young people are considering alternative career paths their predecessors eschewed. Savvy companies should pursue this promising new talent with insight and purpose. The long-term rewards are likely to be rich. ▪

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