The struggle to find enough workers for skilled trade jobs is impacting the home improvement industry as a whole. Mike Mitchell, who leads Lowe’s skilled trades initiatives, including a national movement called Generation T, spoke with Hardware Retailing about why Lowe’s has developed programs to help reduce the skilled labor gap and strengthen the industry.
Hardware Retailing (HR): Why is Lowe’s developing programs to promote careers in skilled trade jobs?
Mike Mitchell (MM): Pros are the backbone of our business. We’re committed to them. A little more than 18 months ago, we started to invest in the future pro by paying for our own associates to pursue skilled trade careers. These are in-store associates who are working our plumbing aisle, our electrical aisle. We’ve helped enroll more than 2,000 associates nationwide to get a pre-apprentice certification in plumbing, electrical, HVAC, appliance repair or carpentry. As that program started to get popular, a lot of high school leaders reached out to us and said, “We would love if you’d come out and talk to our kids about careers in construction.” We started to realize that the scope of this work is actually much bigger and that’s why we’ve decided to make a movement and not just an alliance.
HR: Why is a project that also helps competitors so important to Lowe’s?
MM: It’s critically important to Lowe’s for creating a future workforce and helping our installers grow their pipeline of talent. Lowe’s partners with some of the best installers and repair companies around the country. But a lot of them have said they need help recruiting new talent. So this is our way of stepping up and saying, “We’re going to help you. We’re going to create a national rallying cry.” We’ve always said we want to do business with contractors all around the country. The pro is a huge focus for us. But if their business is not growing, ours isn’t, either. We need to help them grow their businesses, but along the way, we’re helping people jump-start their careers in areas that are high growth with high potential. It really is a win-win.
HR: Why does the gap exist and what can small businesses do?
MM: There is no trade school for skills such as shower door installation and granite countertop installation. These are specialized areas where, historically, family members passed down the knowledge over time within small businesses. That has changed. I feel like the workforce and the education systems have been misaligned for 40 years. We know that only 14 percent of parents currently say their high school kid is in any kind of shop class. However, in the same research Lowe’s did, 67 percent of parents say they would see extreme value to have their kids exposed to different types of work, like construction. Lowe’s is willing to commit not only to help the foundation of our industry, but also help students who don’t know what to do if they’re not going to a four-year university. That’s a discussion we need to have in the U.S. about workforce and education in a way where we’re helping build bridges.