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Skilled Worker Shortage Prompts Lowe's, Home Depot HR to Adapt

A major shortage of U.S. skilled workers and an increasingly tight labor market has pushed home improvement giants to start new development programs.

"The trade profession is a high-demand, high-opportunity field for the next generation workforce, and today, there is a massive unmet need," says Jennifer Weber, chief human resources officer for Lowe's, in a post on the firm's website.

The new Track to the Trades workforce development program wants to give workers a way to up their skills with training and financial support. It launched as pilots on March 1 in Charlotte, Denver, Pittsburgh and Richmond and works in partnership with Guild Education, an adult education firm.

More than 60% of skilled trade professionals concur that the construction industry faces a labor shortage, Lowe's notes, citing a report by the Home Improvement Research Institute. Professional contractors are hungry for more skilled workers with 40% looking to grow their work site labor force, the study finds.

The new program will offer Lowe's employees tuition assistance (up to $2,500) to obtain a trade certification and pre-apprentice in carpentry, HVAC, electrical, plumbing or appliance repair. Academic coaching and support and full-time pre-apprenticeship opportunities also will be made available. The pilot will go nationwide by the end of the year for Lowe's part-time and full-time employees.

"With Track to the Trades, we are providing unique career alternatives for our associates while also building a pipeline for the next generation of skilled trade workers, allowing us to better meet the demands of customers while creating long-term educational benefits and economic opportunity for our people," Weber says.

Lowe's' own analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data notes that more than 500,000 construction-related jobs will not get filled by 2026.

Both Home Depot and Lowe's plan to hire thousands of seasonal workers, more than 80,000 and more than 53,000, respectively, this year, CNBC reports. Home Depot's hiring goal is in line with last year, while Lowe's looks to hire 8,000 more than last year.

Home Depot has promised to spend $50 million for skilled trades training and to reintroduce shop class for the next decade, WCPO Cincinnati reports. These trade skills are for plumbing, electrical, carpentry and other jobs.

The state of Kansas has turned to its inmates to help address its shortage of construction workers, KSHB reports. A $200,000 state grant will be used to pay inmates' salaries and training expenses so contractors can prepare them as skilled workers. That program, which kicked off March 5, will help the construction industry and inmates who will need a job when they leave prison.

"We (contractors) desperately need workers," says David Elliott, president of Construction and Planning Services. "They (former inmates) can't get a normal job. They can't go into maintenance where they have to pass a background check. So this is a good trade for them to come in."

Tucson, Arizona, also is in high need of skilled workers, reports Inside Tucson Business. While many are hopeful that President Donald Trump's infrastructure plan will help, Tom Dunn, Southern Arizona vice president for the Arizona Builders Alliance, is not optimistic.

"Even if those billions of dollars could be made available, there's no way the jobs could be completed because there's not enough manpower to accomplish those projects," Dunn says. "It's not just a local or regional problem, it's endemic throughout the country."

Arizona lost about 200,000 construction jobs during the recession and many laborers that left are not interested in coming back. The industry also is not seeing interest from younger people to learn a trade.

"When the 2008 recession hit, skilled construction workers left Tucson because there was no work," Dunn says. "They fled to other jobs and they aren't coming back. And attracting new hires is becoming more difficult because many don't view the field as a career path or tight budgets are cutting out skills training at the high school level."

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