Report probes shortage of skilled preservation trades workers in Northeast
But growing interest in careers is seen as hopeful sign for future
Shoring up the announcement last year that the skilled trades workforce is one of New Hampshire’s “Seven to Save” historic resources, a newly released report conducted by the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension provides a deeper understanding of the extent of the need.
According to the report, “Understanding and Advancing the Preservation Trades,” there are severe workforce shortages in plastering, masonry, carpentry, materials conservation, decorative finishes, windows and iron work across the Northeast.
The report was conducted with the collaboration of four statewide preservation organizations – the NH Preservation Alliance, the Preservation Trust of Vermont, Maine Preservation and the Preservation League of New York State, all part of the newly formed Northeast Regional Initiative for the Preservation Trades.
According to the report, a growing number of older homes and historic community landmarks across the Northeast are in dire need of maintenance and repair or rehabilitation and can’t get it, and the craftspeople who have specialized knowledge in preservation and restoration techniques and an in-depth understanding of how to work with traditional materials are dwindling.
Besides noting the shortage in specific trades, a workforce survey included in the report also finds:
- More than one third of survey respondents reported that their clients must wait a year or more for their services.
- 75 percent of respondents believe the demand for preservation trades is growing.
- 88 percent of respondents feel that training programs could play a greater role in recruitment and workforce development.
- 93 percent of survey respondents agree that young people lack knowledge about career possibilities in preservation trades.
But the survey also found that these careers can be highly rewarding: 96 percent of tradespeople who responded to the workforce survey reported satisfaction in their careers, and through interviews, they suggest that they are increasingly able to “name their price” due to high demand.
Several factors account for the shortages, according to the report.
First, the current workforce is aging and retiring, and new people are not replacing them.
In addition, opportunities for young people to participate in what were once called “shop” classes during their schooling are diminishing. As a result, many young people lack the basic knowledge that could set them up to be interested and successful in these careers.
In recent decades, according to the report, young people have been encouraged to attend four-year colleges, and trade career choices have commonly been stigmatized or less favored. Exacerbating the problem is the trend of encouraging students who do participate in trades education are often directed toward new construction jobs without learning about the restoration of older structures.
The report does contain some hopeful news, noting that the trades are becoming more valued for the skills they require, and traditionally under-represented groups like women are more readily welcomed into the ranks.
In addition, it notes, preservation trades professionals point to a variety of educational pathways, including college education, trade schools and apprenticeships, can lead to successful preservation trades careers.
With the report in hand, officials of the NH Preservation Alliance, Preservation Trust of Vermont, Maine Preservation and the Preservation League of New York State say they plan to work collaboratively to develop action plans, engage new business and educational partners and build awareness and enthusiasm for preservation trades career paths.