Trade Talk with Bosch Tools North America President, Roger Amrol
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a steep decline in young adults entering into skilled trade fields. On the national level, we’ve seen shortages in new hires across the board in the skilled labor fields, from construction and electrical, all the way to plumbing, automotive, and more. Put simply, we need more skilled labor, especially as technological advancements ramp up.
Bosch Tools echoes this sentiment. We recently had the chance to talk to Roger Amrol, President of Bosch Tools, North America, about the state of the trades in the U.S. right now.
Q&A with Roger Amrol
According to Roger, Bosch has a rich history of focusing on both the residential and commercial ends of the industry. They’ve become a major player in the power tool market, but they’ve also got a hand in manufacturing tools for the automotive industry, as well as coming up with a robust selection of appliances for the homeowner.
With that being the case, Bosch recognizes the value of skilled laborers and the hand they have in driving the industry. This is to say that the company makes a big effort to keep its proverbial finger on the pulse of industry trends.
How Does Bosch Envision Automation Factoring Into the Trades?
As technology develops, tradesmen need to develop new skills to keep up with the rising tide of progress. Some will see this as a negative. Naturally, the question of whether or not automation will phase out human laborers can be a scary one to think about. Undoubtedly, automation has the ability to handle many tasks in the industry, which could put some people out of work.
The answer, though, is that automation doesn’t have to threaten anyone, though it will force most trade laborers to expand and develop their skill sets. For instance, as we move more toward smart cities, smart homes, smart appliances, and connected devices, installers who might also have been plumbers and electricians might now also have the opportunity to work on products hardwired into the network. In this example, a tradesman will still be doing installation work, but the manner in which they do it will become more extensive.
Ultimately, automation creates a larger scope of skills, with a larger demographic, needed by the tradesman. Work that we tend to look at as “blue collar” in a good way requires a different set of skills for the future. In fact, high schools with STEM and STEAM programs are already producing graduates with a wider range of skill sets. They’re creating new opportunities for specialists.
The truth is that, even with automation in the trades, there is still a never-ending need for experienced trade labor that’s becoming more and more educated over time.
What Trades Have the Biggest Demand?
It’s tough to say one in particular as there’s an apparent need in pretty much all the fields. But one of the places that Bosch sees needing help is in the construction side of the trade industry. A lot of that has to do with OSHA’s and health and safety standards, which continue to increase.
Silica dust control is a big deal in the construction business right now, but it’s not the only safety measures Bosch is concerned about. Ultimately, they want to help extend the lives of their users.
Look at the guys installing flooring. Some of these guys don’t bother with things like knee pads for the first ten years of their career, and they wind up doing irreparable damage to themselves. Or you have individuals lifting up heavy walls, which can eventually cause suffering.
Bosch is actually developing exoskeleton support for relief with this type of job. We’re working on a lot of noise and vibration control with our tools – in addition to taking measures to control silica dust – to keep workers safe and productive.
Ultimately, we see extending the life of the trade laborer to be one of the biggest demands across the industry for Bosch. Our tagline “Invented for Life” reflects this company’s value set and dedication to the workers who drive the trade industries.
What is Causing the Trade Gap?
It’s difficult to pin the trade gap down to one particular cause, but the stigma surrounding the trades likely has something to do with it. The perception that you can make a better life for yourself by avoiding the trades lingers from the past.
Look at the some of the early 80’s movies, say, Wall Street, for instance. This was a movie that sensationalized a blue collar worker trying to make it in a white collar world. This movie typifies the attitude that exists about the trades: that blue collar work is a step below white collar work, and that we ought to be driving our kids toward that white collar world.
It still persists today – some people feel that pursuing a career in the trades is a dead end, or that you can’t be proud of trade work. But it seems like we’re at a good time and place with technology to correct that perception.
For one thing, there’s a lot to love about working with your hands. You’re not stuck behind a desk, and you’re doing different things every day. Plus, you go to a job knowing that the work you do can have a very meaningful and positive effect on people’s lives. Bosch looks at tradesmen as heroes, in fact.
Take a look at something like the polar vortex this past winter. The temperature plummets, and it’s our tradesmen who are out repairing electrical systems, heat pumps, and water lines to get people back up and running with food, water, and electricity. Tradesmen and their skillsets aren’t just nice to have around, their jobs are critical when people’s welfare is at stake.
Secondly, the average tradesman stands to make much more money than a person coming out of a four-year degree program. In most cases, new tradesmen can start their careers out debt-free. And they’re working in a field with highly-competitive salary packages. When the next wave of trade labor realizes that they can have less debt and make more money, they’ll be amazed.
How Do We Encourage the Next Generation to Get Interested??
One of the numbers that’s really made an impression on Bosch, and which highlights the critical need we have for new tradesmen, is the average age of the trade worker. For instance, the average age of a plumber right now is around 56 or 57. We recognize that we need to make these trades more attractive to a broader audience if we want to see our economy thrive.
We’ve already talked a bit about the benefits of avoiding student debt, which is huge. When you look at the average age of skilled tradesmen, you realize that in ten years or so, these guys will start to retire. The point here is that there likely won’t be a shortage of work to do for the foreseeable future.
Identifying and educating prospective students of the trades are key. That’s why Bosch has partnered with Lowe’s and a number of other companies to form Generation T, a program that’s designed to provide educational and financial support to the next wave of trade laborers. Generation T realizes that the industry is evolving with technology, and with new technology moving more from “nice-to-have” to “must-have”, they’re equipping up and coming tradesmen with the tools to excel in this new landscape.
We really need to find a way to communicate to our younger trade enthusiasts that this is a career to be proud of. Bosch would like to see younger guys start to “wear it on their sleeve”. In other words, this generation could stand to develop a bit more swagger about what it is they do. Working in the trades is enjoyable, lucrative, and critical to our society. It’s something that the younger crowd really can, and should be, proud of.