Though the construction labor shortage continues, there may be some hope for alleviating the staffing challenges in this industry—and it’s Gen Z. 

The term Tool Belt Generation has come to the forefront in recent weeks, describing the wave of Generation Z’ers flocking to skilled trade jobs instead of a traditional four-year degree career. What caused this sudden shift, and how can recruiters like you take advantage of this growing talent pool?  

Why are Skilled Trades Attractive to Gen Z? 

College is Too Expensive

College tuition has continued to rise over the years, and inflation has only exacerbated the costs of attending four-year colleges. The average price of going to a public college in 2022-2023  is $23,603 a year, while private colleges average $42,162 a year, according to US News and World Report. More Gen Z’ers are being priced out of higher education, and the thought of graduating with a ton of debt has become unattractive. In a recent report by the Education Data Initiative, college enrollment in the Spring of 2022 fell 14.7% from the numbers in the Fall of 2020. College enrollment has declined 9.8% since it peaked in 2010. 

Trade Schools Vs Colleges
The average student loan borrower's debt is $28,950.

However, skipping post-secondary education altogether isn’t an option for this demographic either. 54% of this demographic believe more than a high school diploma is needed to land a well-paying job. As a result, Gen Z high school graduates are turning toward trade and vocational schools. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, enrollment in their programs rose 16% in 2023. Those enrolled in construction trade programs grew by 23% in that period. 

Skilled Trades Provides a Direct Path to a High-Paying Career 

Aside from wanting to avoid debt before starting a career, Gen Z is beginning to realize that skilled trades work provides a straight path to a higher salary. During their two years of vocational training, students must do on-the-job training. Once they graduate, all that may be required is a state certification or license to start working in their chosen field. According to, the average salary of a skilled tradesperson in the United States is $73,117. This industry also provides the 50% of Gen Z’ers who want to own their businesses the opportunity to do so without having a four-year degree. One in six skilled tradespeople become entrepreneurs. 

Jobs Aided By AI

Skilled Trades Are Unlikely to be Replaced by AI 

With the rapid rise of AI, there are growing concerns about how large language models like ChatGPT will disrupt jobs across many industries. According to a Pew Research study, the jobs most likely affected by AI are office jobs. OpenAI, the tech company behind ChatGPT, conducted its research, finding that college-educated workers would be the most exposed to AI in the workplace. For jobs that required a 4-year degree, 75% of them would be aided by AI as opposed to 38% of those that needed a vocational degree.  

It’s doubtful that AI could put up drywall or fix an electrical line, which is another reason why many Gen Zers are considering careers in the skilled trades. With the ongoing need for skilled tradespeople, this industry will always need human workers to get the job done.  

How Can Hiring Managers Recruit More Gen Z Workers into Skilled Trades Positions? 

Now that we understand why Gen Z workers are entering the skilled trades, we’ll explore how construction managers can use this demographic of workers to fill the gaps in their current staff. 

  • Understand What Gen Z Looks for in a Career 

    Understanding the preferences and aspirations of the new Toolbelt Generation is critical to recruiting and retaining them for your open job positions. Gen Z workers are focused on their professional paths and willing to job-hop or start their ventures. Money isn't their sole motivator. They want roles aligning with their goals and values. Gen Z also prioritizes roles offering societal impact and prefers tech-savvy recruitment approaches, favoring specifically tailored online content. To recruit this demographic, emphasize career growth opportunities, societal contributions, and strong employer branding. 

  • Embrace Recruiting on Social Media 

    According to a report from Morning Consult, Gen Z spends over four hours a day on social media, so investing effort in your online employer brand is essential. Unfortunately, listing job openings on platforms like Instagram and Facebook isn’t enough. Gen Z wants to see your company values, community involvement, and workplace culture in action through videos and photos. They also want to see how your company can help them reach their career goals. Remember to spotlight your company's values, community contributions, and career development opportunities to resonate with the Gen Z demographic when crafting content for social media platforms. 

  • Partner with a Staffing Agency 

    When you’re already overworked trying to keep your construction projects running smoothly, you may not have time to source any new workers, let alone Gen Z talent. Working with a staffing agency that not only knows your industry but already has a talent pipeline of workers in this demographic can you save you time and money. At Labor Finders, we prioritize matching our clients with quality workers from all walks of life. We developed a reputation for recruiting, vetting, and placing qualified, skilled tradespeople, and that reputation helped us win ClearlyRated's Best of Staffing Award fifteen years in a row. 

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