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Editor's Notebook

Bridging the Generation Gap

Bridging the generation gap for skilled trades

Originally published
Originally published: 3/1/2023

According to Anita Lettink, Future of Work & Pay Keynote Speaker, and author of the article, “No, Millennials will NOT be 75% of the Workforce in 2025 (or ever)!” the workforce isn’t only about to change, millennials and Gen Z will dominate in the next two years. Says the author:

In 2025, baby boomers will represent only 7% of the workforce, and Gen Xers will be reduced to not quite 33% of all American workers. Millennials will remain steady at about 40%, while Generation Z will jump to almost 20% of the U.S. labor force.

Gen Z is Moving Away from the Trades

According to NPR and recent research on Handshake, Gen Z’s interest in trades and skilled work has dropped. An article titled, America needs carpenters and plumbers. Gen Z doesn't seem interested, 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.

What do those numbers (and the previous statistics on an increasing Gen Z workforce) mean for you? Breaking it down in the simplest of terms - if you factor in the current worker shortage in the trades, endemic to the HVACR industry, and you add to that an aging industry with many owners planning on retirement, the purported balance shift in generational percentages could forecast some significant challenges. Most companies are already struggling and are creatively attempting to solve the problem of how to attract top technical talent – specifically a younger talent pool. If we flash forward a couple of years and look at the picture statistics are showing us, it means owners will need to find even more creative ways to appeal to young recruits. Specifically, it’s time to figure out how to bridge the generation gap. To do that, you need to know who these folks are and what matters to them.

Who is Gen Z and What Do they Want?

If you look at all the research, Gen Z workers are entrepreneurial and tech-savvy, and they are more money-conscious than Millennials because they watched their parents struggle in the 2008 recession. So, promotions, security, and money – are all matters that are important to Gen Z. Nearly 82% of the generation believes in college education leaving 18% (and possibly more) available for work in the trades. Gen Z is also the generation that has been coined the “phigital” generation because they are the first group “who don’t draw a distinction between the physical and digital worlds and are comfortable in both.” Lastly, they need meaning in their work. They need to know that what they are doing matters. 

Build a Bridge and Close the Gap

What can owners do to attract Gen Z employees now? Speak their language.

When seeking recruits, follow these best practices:

    1.    Sustainability and energy efficiency. Stress the importance of their role in changing the industry and your focus moving forward on sustainability and energy efficiency

    2.    Paint a picture of future ownership. Gen Z is entrepreneurial. Show them the road that a career in trades can pave. Give them examples of how most owners started as technicians.

    3.    Virtual Training. To attract, you must adapt. Gen Z values privacy and remote training. Those companies who have offered virtual training have seen the big difference it can make in attracting recruits.

    4.    Pay vs. Value. Gen Z values money. Traditional pay scales most likely won’t work with this generation.  Gen Z folks are free thinkers. If they think they can make money another way, they will. You’ll need to rethink pay, incentives, and benefits. Many may need to see a path to competitive six-figure incomes especially those who are lugging around student loan debt. 

As you can see, there are real generational differences. However, gaps existed from Boomers to Gen X and now from Millennials to Gen Z. And somehow as an industry, we all found ways to adapt. This generation is the most unique in fifty years because we have never had a generation that not only understood only smartphones and the internet, but also virtual reality. Gen Z does not know a life without the most advanced optics. But as we have done in the past, it is possible to not only bridge the gap but build an entirely thriving new generation of trades workers. It will require ingenuity and out-of-the-box thinking, but heck, Boomers – that’s old hat for you!


1 Lettink (September 2019) No, Millennials will NOT be 75% of the Workforce in 2025 (or ever)!
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/millennials-75-workforce-2025-ever-anita-lettink/?trackingId=jx%2Fgm6SYQH%2BYQ4LmnHaWnA%3D%3D

2 Stoner (May 2017) The Coming of the Phigital Generation — and Reality
https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs call-action-marketing-and-communications-higher-educationcoming-phigital-generation-%E2%80%94-and


Heather Langone is the Managing Editor of HVACR Magazine. For comments and feedback, email hlangone@hvacrbusiness.com.


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