The Role of the Craft Professional: Recognizing Artistry in Trades

By Eric Groat

At the beginning of a construction project, some may see just a dirt pad, but those of us who work in the industry see a blank canvas.

Starting with critical foundational elements—and building upon them—leads to a masterpiece over time. Like artwork, the outcome of a project depends on the skill of the artist. In this case, that artist is a team of artisans—the project’s tradespeople.

When we think of a building’s design, we think of architects and engineers. When we think of planning and executing the project, we think of construction managers or general contractors. Too often, though, we fail to acknowledge craft professionals for their skill in carrying out the work.

Our clients’ usual top three requests are: increased speed to market, no budget surprises, and quality work. While each member of the construction and design team has a role to play in reaching the client’s goals, the trade contractor’s role is one of the most critical in achieving those objectives. An  engaged craft team can increase speed to market by delivering a quality installation that limits re-work and thereby providing schedule and budget stability.

However, building a strong craft labor pool has been one of the construction industry’s greatest challenges for years. As more Baby Boomers retire, the industry has struggled to keep pace with hiring and training a comparable number of Millennials and Generation Z.  The growing shortage of craft professionals isn’t only a concern for the construction industry—it’s everyone’s concern. As a homeowner, business owner or consumer, a lack of skilled construction workforce can, and will, impact your bottom line in the future.

Year after year, survey results continue to find that Millennial and Gen Z employees pursue work that has purpose. With these two generations preparing to overtake the majority of the workforce, construction companies are in a unique, and perhaps beneficial, position.

Trades provide employees with opportunities to see an immediate impact of their work, bringing with it a sense of accomplishment. This is amplified when working to build socially beneficial projects, especially healthcare and education facilities. With more widespread craft training and education, there’s an opportunity to demonstrate how new generations’ preferences align well with the construction industry.

Trade careers provide purpose for those seeking it and  they require tremendous knowledge, experience and artistry. The more we celebrate those skills through recognition, compensation and competitions like NCCER’s National Craft Championships, we encourage new generations to follow in the footsteps of those who came before them.

Instead of creating the expectation that a university education is required for a successful career, we should encourage and celebrate those who follow a different path.  As an industry, if we work to better recognize craft workers as the highly skilled artisans they are, then we can help guarantee there will be a workforce for the future.