An unprecedented skilled-labor shortage exists from a combination of the Great Recession’s record levels of unemployment, industry veterans leaving the workforce and the fact that many high-school graduates are not interested in blue-collar jobs.

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When a major spring storm strikes, dealing with home damage caused by heavy rain, hail or high winds can be overwhelming.

But you might have something else to worry about besides a leaking roof or flooded basement. Finding a qualified contractor to perform repairs can be challenging because of a widespread shortage of skilled tradespeople. And when you do find one, projects can cost more and take longer to complete.

An unprecedented skilled-labor shortage exists from a combination of the Great Recession’s record levels of unemployment, industry veterans leaving the workforce and the fact that many high-school graduates are not interested in blue-collar jobs.

What you need to know

In its 2016-2017 U.S. talent-shortage survey, the global staffing firm Manpower Group reported that skilled-trade vacancies are the hardest jobs to fill in the country. Skilled trades (electricians, carpenters, welders, bricklayers, plasterers, plumbers, masons and more) have maintained the No. 1 position in vacancies from 2010 to the present. During and after the housing downturn of 2007 to 2009, the construction industry alone lost 1.5 million workers, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

The labor shortage has reached a crisis mode, according to Eric Thorkilsen, who is on a mission to increase the ranks in skilled trades. The chief executive of Stamford, Connecticut-based This Old House Ventures, the leading U.S. brand in home-improvement content, says it will be “increasingly difficult for homeowners to find skilled craftspeople to come either to do renovations or even just to make repairs without young people entering the trades and taking the place of those who are now reaching retirement age.”

A big part of the workforce problem is negative perceptions about skilled trades. Young adults often see vocational jobs as a grueling line of work offering no career advancement or financial and job security.

The reality is many workers in the skilled trades earn average or above average wages. Salaries vary depending on which field you enter.

For example, the median annual wage for electricians is $52,720, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.

The highest 10 percent of electricians earn more than $90,420. The median annual wage for carpenters is $43,600, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $79,480.

Thorkilsen said he believes the elimination of vocational training in high schools cut off much of the pipeline for blue-collar workers. An emphasis on college readiness and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields adversely affected trade courses such as woodworking and welding.

“Somewhere along the line a decision was made that everybody needs to go to college, and it was something less worthy working with your hands and doing these skilled jobs,” said Thorkilsen. “Shop class got replaced by computer science and information technology. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but why did it have to be a replacement? Why couldn’t it have been an addition? Because it truly is a fact that the satisfactions that come from successfully working with your hands, no matter what the trade is, there’s a real benefit from that.”

To close the skills gap, This Old House Ventures recently launched This Old House Generation Next, an initiative to raise funds and awareness of this issue while encouraging and empowering young adults to become skilled crafts workers.

Last year, three young apprentices were chosen from a nationwide casting call to work alongside the “This Old House” PBS-TV crew to shed light on the opportunities that careers in skilled trades can provide.

Bailey Beers, a senior at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, Maine, worked with the show’s expert crew on episodes that premiered in the fall of 2017.

“Growing up in a generation where technology is such a major focus, it was nice to show people that there is still a need for jobs like this and they are very honorable and esteemed positions to have,” said Beers, who is focused on residential-building construction.

“Bailey is very bright and driven,” said Thorkilsen. “We hope her story will encourage more young women to pursue careers in the trades.”

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on building a future skilled-trades workforce.

“Chances are that if you reach out to a contractor to come do something at your home, the good ones are going to be relatively hard to schedule because they are in demand,” Thorkilsen said.

“But what needs to happen is when you make that call for the contractor going forward, there needs to be this next generation that shows up to take their place and shows up in numbers that can handle the demand.”