Guest Contributor

Co-Owner of GSM Services Speaks on Employee Shortages in Trade

April 19, 2022

Steven Long, co-owner of GSM Services, a third-generation family-owned business since 1927, recently lamented the increase of students opting out of trade school and electing to attend a 4-year university. GSM Services helps homeowners and business owners improve the comfort, energy efficiency, and health of the environments in their homes and offices.

There is a dark cloud upon us that could very well turn into a hurricane if something doesn’t change quickly. There is a shortage in the trades that is getting worse by the year. I am talking about the work that includes HVAC Installers and Technicians, Plumbers, Welders, Electricians, Carpenters, Masons, Roofers, etc.

I am not a professional researcher, but I have personally experienced a few things that have brought us to where we are. As I was graduating high school in 1988, I and most or all of my classmates were encouraged to work toward attending a four-year university. Learning a trade was never discussed and frankly, it was frowned upon. Those wanting to get into the trades were looked down upon. I was lucky that my summer job was in the HVAC world, so I was exposed to trade work early in my life. This view has continued to be at the forefront since then and continues today. It is to the point where some trades are seeing a five (5) to one (1) retirement exchange. For every five tradesmen (this does not apply to every single trade) that retire, only one new person is coming into that trade. This is a situation that will have some real serious consequences in the coming years.

A Path to Prosperity & Success

Two 18-year-olds just graduated high school. The first has decided they are attending a four (4) year college as they are convinced this is the better path to success. Over those four (4) years, they rack up $200,000 in college debt and graduate. They are unable to find the job they want exactly or even if they do, the average starting salary last year was close to $50,000/year. The second high school graduate decided to go work for an HVAC company as an apprentice at age 18. He/she starts out at $14/hour and this company happens to have both a scholarship program at the community college and a tuition reimbursement program. This individual takes advantage of the tuition reimbursement program, makes $30k in year one, $40k in year two during which the two (2) year associates degree is completed, and they begin their career as a full time Service Technician making $50k – 60k (this can increase to as much as $90k and over $100k). After four (4) years, one individual has personally made close to $200,000 dollars working, has built experience, and may even be living in their own home; while the first individual is starting their working career $200,000 in debt. That is a $400,000 swing by the age of 22 – 23.

In our company, the majority of our leadership team do not have a four (4) year degree. The career path in the trades can look exactly the same as the college graduates and maybe even faster. This could lead from apprentice to field technician to field team leader to project manager to division team leader to regional/group manager to company owner.

A Path to Meaning

One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing people use this type of phrase, “He’s only a plumber”, or “he decided to just go to tech school to be an HVAC technician.” What in the world does that mean and what message does that send to kids trying after graduating from high school? I realize though there is nothing more noble than working in the trades. Where else can you ensure that people are comfortable and breathing clean air in their homes? Where else can you help homeowners live dry and safely in their homes? Where else can you ensure that someone’s crawlspace is not full of moisture and biological growth? The trades literally keep people alive and healthy. There is nothing important than protecting someone’s home and helping them enhance their health and quality of life. This is what those of us in the trade world are doing every day.

There’s a classic story about 3 individuals laying bricks. All three were on a scaffold working side by side rebuilding St. Paul’s Cathedral after it had burned down in the 1600’s. One was crouched, one half-standing and one was standing tall, working very hard and fast. The first bricklayer was asked, “What are you doing?” To which he replied, “I’m a bricklayer. I’m working hard laying bricks to feed my family.” The second bricklayer responded, “I’m a builder. I’m building a wall.” But the third bricklayer, the most productive of the three and the future leader of the group responded, “I’m a cathedral builder. I’m building a great cathedral for The Almighty.” I believe this parable is an example of what’s missing in the trade world. The world would literally stop without the work being done by blue collar tradespeople.

I am on a mission to spread this message and help others see what is possible through a career in the trades. I am personally biased toward the HVAC and Commercial Roofing industry, but every single trade job is noble, will provide meaning to the individual worker and serve a greater purpose for the overall good of their community.

Contact: Steven Long


Phone: 704.864.0344