Growing Your Own: The Solution to the Nationwide Skilled Trades Shortage

by Steffan Busch in October 25th, 2023

When speaking with Nexstar members about their recruiting challenges, I advise them to play the long game. This means two things:

  1. Always be recruiting, even when you’re not hiring. 
  2. Recruit apprentices and teach them the trades. 

When you’re always recruiting, you’re creating a network of candidates to hire anytime you need to. This allows you to be picky with your hiring decisions. You won’t be hiring people simply because they can turn a wrench, you’ll be hiring people who can turn a wrench and fit your culture. This is ideal, because people who fit your culture and can turn a wrench are likely to stay at your company longer. Higher employee retention means you won’t have to hire and train as often. See how this works? 

Hiring apprentices benefits you in two ways. First, they’ll be more likely to stay with you, because you’re taking a chance on them and investing in them. You’re teaching them both a trade and your system for serving customers. You’re also able to hire for personality (which can’t be trained) and then train the rest during the apprenticeship. That makes recruiting easier, because you are focusing on one thing: personality. 

→ How to Start an Apprentice Program from Scratch

Taking A Chance on Entry Level Talent

Here’s a personal story to illustrate.

Towards the end of my time in college, I decided I wanted to get into the HR/recruiting profession. After graduation, I began actively searching for a full time HR job and networking for contacts. I had no prior experience and had only a few naive ideas on a theoretical level what the HR profession is. 

I soon landed an interview with a small candle manufacturing/wholesale company for their vacant HR role. I wore my best suit and turned on the charm. I nailed the interview and, despite my lack of experience, was offered the job. Was I in over my head? You bet I was. I was the sole HR person for a 200-employee organization. But the managers who hired me saw potential and believed I could grow into the position and develop beyond it. 

I had a challenging start to say the least, because there was no on-boarding or training to ease me into the job. I was thrown into the deep end and wasn’t sure I could swim. But I figured it out. Fourteen years later, with a successful HR career under my belt, here I am, the Recruiting & Retention Coach at Nexstar. 

That small manufacturing company took a chance. They opened the door for me to launch my career and I took full advantage of it. I will always be grateful to them for that opportunity and worked my tail off as a result.

I share this story to illuminate the point that the quickest and most effective way to eliminate the industry skills shortage is to take a chance and hire entry level people with the potential to be successful. In other words, hire for potential and character, and teach the rest. 

Hire for Potential & Teach The Rest

First, post an apprentice job description on job boards and the careers page on your website. (You do have a careers page, right? If not, let’s fix that right away). 

Because this is a “no experience necessary” kind of job, you’ll likely receive a lot of applications, which is great. Invite those applicants to your shop to attend a morning meeting with all of your technicians. Do this regardless of whether you’re officially hiring or not. You’ll quickly find out who’s genuinely interested. They’re the ones that will show up for this meeting. 

Take this opportunity to make a lasting first impression as a great place to work. Take them on a tour and spend some time briefly interviewing them. These potential employees should come away so impressed with you that they’ll refer others to you. What a great way to create a pool of candidates! It’s a win/win. 

Host these events on a consistent basis. If you meet someone who has the potential you’re looking for, continue with the interview process. Those you hire should be given a thoughtful and complete on-boarding experience, which can positively impact employee retention and productivity.

The on-boarding period must be viewed as an opportunity to provide the new employee with a roadmap to success in your organization. Introduce them to other members of the team. Spend time sharing your company history, mission and values, and how their success will contribute to the success of the business. 

Then close that loop by explaining how the more successful your company is, the more they’ll benefit. Share the expectations of the job and make sure they understand them. Take them to lunch with a few other employees to ensure they feel welcome. Now begin a formal training process. For example, send them on ride-alongs, and begin teaching principles from the Nexstar Service System


There is a nationwide skills shortage in the trades. The solution to the skills shortage lies with us. It starts with acknowledging and taking responsibility for the fact that we must recruit, hire and train people who have potential to be successful. There is a talent pool of people who are untrained, but have the potential to do this work with incredible skill. They just need to be given the chance. This seems like a perfect match. 

End the skills shortage by recruiting, hiring and training entry level people. In doing so, you are contributing to the elimination of the nationwide skills shortage in the trades. Like me, they’ll be grateful you took a chance on them by facilitating the start of an awesome career.

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