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Trade’s Image Problem: Branding Lessons From The Trade Industry

By Noelle Brooks

Trade's Image Problem. Man in red flannel shirt and work overalls is pictured.

I am your typical millennial. I was taught to be a success I had to go to college. Vocational careers were not viable options. Higher education was what “smart” kids did. Two degrees and a lot of debt later, I cannot help but wonder if it was the best choice. Fortunately, I love what I do, but wish I knew college wasn’t the only option. This college-first agenda, along with a few other factors, has led to a skilled labor crisis. So what’s being done to address it and what does it have to do with marketing? To start, let’s discuss the causes of the crisis and potential consequences.

The Skilled Labor Crisis

While many sectors experienced growth since the 2008 recession, the trade industry is still recovering. Currently, 62% of firms are unable to find qualified workers.  This means firms cannot meet growing demand. Baby boomers, who make up most of the industry, are headed to retirement. By 2020, 31 million jobs in the trade industry will be unfilled. If ignored, the impact will be far-reaching and severe. Businesses and individuals will lose essential services. Neglected infrastructure issues will create dangerous conditions. Costs will continue to increase, making it impossible to complete certain projects. To address this crisis, the industry has tried everything from wage increases to building state-of-the-art facilities. However, these efforts did not focus on the core issue: the trade’s image problem.

The Trade’s Image Problem

Presently, skilled labor jobs are viewed as a “last resort.” There are several reasons for this image problem. Layoffs and outsourcing caused many to mistrust the industry. This has led to a perception that trade jobs are not stable. In schools, academics are prioritized, with few options for vocational education. This means students are not exposed to hands-on labor until much later in life. Older generations also embraced sending their children to college, a luxury many did not have previously. Office work was revered, while trade jobs were dirty and invaluable. Even the media supported this perspective, portraying tradespeople as shady or uneducated.  So how can the industry change its image? With a total rebrand.

The Rebrand Strategy

One way trade organizations are rebranding is by improving access. Mike Rowe, “Dirty Jobs” host, offers scholarships through his foundation mikeroweWORKS. Groups like Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC) ease the transition into the trade industry with paid apprenticeships. These initiatives also validate trade work. In California, vocational schools are developing programs that help local businesses. These relationships create jobs and goodwill.

The trade industry has also doubled its marketing efforts. Mike Rowe’s “Profoundly Disconnected” campaign challenges perceptions about trade through campus outreach. Go Build America, a nonprofit focused on the construction industry, launched a national campaign in December 2017. “This new initiative will allow organizations large and small to utilize and benefit from our proven outreach strategy and connectivity tools, and bring our entire industry together with one cohesive message: Go Build America,” said Bob Woods, President of Go Build. These tactics raise awareness and improve perceptions.

What This Means For Your Industry

So how do these lessons apply to your brand?  Understanding your industry’s image is crucial to brand success. Address negative perceptions and show how your brand defies them. Additionally, do not wait until a crisis to rebrand. Review past strategies and ways to improve. Monitor shifts in your industry. Be the brand that sets trends rather than follow them.

Although the trade industry has a long road ahead, it also has a game plan. Through awareness and outreach, the industry is slowly shifting public perception. If it works, it is not just a victory for the trade industry, but for all of us.  Here’s to hoping they are successful.

Looking to rebrand? Try promotional products. Contact Choice Premiums at 478-741-8888 or request@choicepremiums.com to start your rebrand campaign. 

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