How to Expand Your Workforce During a Trade Labor Shortage

Trying different recruiting and hiring methods could be the key to turning around yours and the industry’s labor shortage.

How to Expand Your Workforce During a Trade Labor Shortage

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Is growing your business and expanding your profit important to you and your company? I suspect so. Unfortunately, the trade labor shortage is likely getting in the way.

According to HomeAdvisor’s new annual report, The Skilled Trades in America, 40% of plumbing business owners are suffering from delayed and stunted business growth as a result of the lack of available workforce.

The report highlights some of the industry’s pressing issues including the consequences of leaving problems unaddressed. It also uncovers some practical solutions for solving these pressing problems and — most critically for you — the opportunity available to industry leaders that are the first to do so.

With nearly half of all trade business owners currently saying the shortage is stunting their growth, it is no surprise that 80% of plumbers believe there is a shortage in trade labor and only 3% think the problem has improved in the last five years. Despite the strong housing and remodeling markets, the shortage of labor is presenting a huge challenge for plumbing companies.

Maybe your business has already been held back by the labor shortage or maybe you’re fortunate in that it has yet to impact you. Either way, it is an industry-wide issue that needs your attention.


Why should you make fixing the labor shortage a priority?

The answer is that every business is only as good as its people. Whether you’re running a plumbing service business focusing on maintenance and repair, a construction plumbing business installing new systems from scratch as part of the building process, or some combination of blended service, your business can only scale, grow and increase revenue if you are bringing in new talent, training them well and making them available to your clients and customers.

The solution to this problem, and the business opportunity available to early and effective problem solvers, lies with you. How you recruit, train and retain talent will impact your ability to outgrow your competitors and capitalize on any potential consumer demand.

The Skilled Trades report highlights three specific solutions you can use to lessen the labor shortage and gain a competitive edge in recruitment, training and growth.

1. Change the benefits you highlight.

Many skilled construction and remodeling jobs pay above market average wages for their area and many employers in the plumbing industry highlight those competitive wages as one of their main tools of attracting talent.

However, the most striking insight we found about working in the trades is not about wages but about the very high levels of job satisfaction. The overall level of satisfaction across the trades is 82%. Plumbers are a particularly happy group with less than 5% dissatisfied in their profession.

Why are plumbers so happy? It is not just the great pay and potential for flexible hours. Rather, finding meaning and value in work is the number one driver among those who are highly satisfied.

At a time when the younger generations prioritize finding value in their work and believing in its importance, this is a huge competitive advantage in recruiting new people to the industry.

Unfortunately, 60% of plumbers believe there is a lack of respect for blue-collar work in America. One of the ways to change this perception — and attract new people to the field — is by talking about the very high levels of job satisfaction and meaning in the purity of the work itself that the skilled trades have to offer.

2. Change how you recruit.

A total of 63% of tradespeople still rely on word-of-mouth recommendations as their number-one method of recruitment. The second closest method, online job posting websites, is less than half as popular at 28%.

You make investments in your vehicle fleet, equipment, consumer demand and business development channels, so why not in recruiting the best possible talent?

The industry has long relied on passive, word-of-mouth recommendations, but it’s time to modernize and innovate how it recruits new talent. As broad as your word-of-mouth network may be, using new digital and online tools and working with local high schools, colleges and other community organizations is going to significantly expand how effective your efforts are at attracting top talent.

3. Expand and diversify your talent targets.

The plumbing industry is suffering from a trade labor shortage while simultaneously limiting itself to a workforce that is less than 10% female. With women making up nearly half of the population, we should expect to see somewhere between five and 10 times as many female plumbers as there are today.

What’s more, the women who are working in the trades are about twice as likely as their male peers to believe that providing a clear pathway for women to enter the trades would make a difference. Plainly put, there is a natural inertia in implementing the sorts of clear pathways and cultural focus that would help us to broaden the workforce.

Fortunately, we have a few industries to look to as examples of successful rebalancing of gender in the workforce. Looking back a few generations, the medical and legal industries were missing out on the untapped potential of half of the population but today, medical and law school graduates are evenly split 50/50 between men and women. It’s now up to the trades to follow suit.

This dynamic also applies when looking at racial diversity in the trades. While not quite as pronounced as the shortage of women, there is a major underrepresentation of people of color in the trades.

Using recruitment methods that do not rely strictly on word of mouth, as well as making a concerted effort to build a broader talent recruitment pipeline are two immediate solutions to this underrepresentation.


The skilled trades and nearly half of plumbing businesses are not growing like they could because of the trade labor shortage. By adjusting what benefits are highlighted, changing your choice recruitment tools and expanding your target audience for recruitment and training, you can be one of the early problem solvers with a larger, higher quality talent pool available to expand, innovate and grow your business.  


Mischa Fisher is the chief economist for HomeAdvisor and ANGI Homeservices.


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