Skilled electricians, carpenters, painters, all-arounders – people who are knowledgeable, handy, and can fix our homes. They’re dying. Literally.
This frog got boiled slowly, but the fact is, it’s cooked now. Taken individually, each of the drivers behind the dwindling numbers of skilled workers make sense. As the years have slipped by the sum of the parts has created a silent emergency, a generation of ghosts.
Somewhere along the way, the promise of high salaried, upwardly mobile careers was offered at the mere completion of an undergraduate degree, making the trip to the hallowed halls of academia the presumptive default. The trades – slow to innovate compared to the lightning pace of technology, biotech, finance – were downgraded as paths for those who couldn’t “make it” in academia.
Vocational training in urban high schools has all but disappeared. Shop classes in high school have been dropped in favor of computer literacy classes, with the expectation that this prepares for college entry. The lack of interest in the trades has been unwittingly aided by an industry that has held on to outmoded ideas including excluding women from the workforce and intentionally setting up gatekeepers to resist the addition of young tradespeople. Meanwhile, the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the vast majority of high school graduates are attending college. But that leaves a huge portion, over a third, who have no plans for college, and haven’t been taught specific job skills. For those that do attend college, it’s far from a guarantee. Over 22% of college graduates remain unemployed, laden with heavy student loans.
For commercial builders and general contractors there simply aren’t enough skilled workers to go around. According to the National Association of Home Builders, a full 82% of home builders named this as their No. 1 issue in 2017 (up from just 13% in 2011).
For homeowners, this problem is even worse. While online aggregators such as Thumbtack, Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor have provided opportunities for independent contractors to list their services (for a fee) and receive consumer ratings, they still don’t offer a solution to the core problem. There simply are not enough professional, experienced workers to handle the demand. Nine out of ten of the homeowners I’ve spoken to have tried to get some small thing fixed, and found that they simply cannot get anyone to come out to their place to do the work. The lucky few who have found “a go to person” often go through several voicemails, weeks of waiting, and ultimately a day off work to get maintenance and handy work done in their homes.
How is there an acute shortage of skilled workers in the trades, combined with a dearth of career options for high school graduates?
In the words of Jacobim Mugatu, “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”
There has to be a better way.
Here at Fixer, we set out to solve our customers’ problem of waiting weeks for “their guy” to show up to fix something. We quickly came to believe that this can only be done hand in hand with a comprehensive dedication to reshaping the way trade education is offered in our cities. We believe that the only way to attract bright young talent is to pair modern education with competitively paid employment.
So, we decided to start an in-house school, with a twist (it always has a twist doesn’t it?)
The Fixer trade school isn’t your grandpappy’s shop class. It isn’t spending two years in sawdust strewn shops under the impetuous gaze of a grizzled veteran. No, we’re building a technology enabled curriculum injected with practical experience. In addition to hard skills, we focus on mentoring respect, empathy, and exemplary customer service. We actively recruit men and women to join us on this path. And then, here’s the kicker, once a Fixer certifies on their first skill, we send them out into people’s homes to use the skill. This is paid, real-time, real-world training aligned to the needs of real-time, real-world customers.
Our Fixers – both the experienced veterans on board and those we train and certify -are employees, not gig economy workers. That’s important too. Sending a novice into someone’s home only works if they have support and can see a bigger vision. It only thrives in a team based atmosphere. Our new Fixers have centuries of skill backing them up, along with the guarantee of the entire organization. Layered on top of that is our technology. In addition to creating a customer experience that’s quick and convenient, we’ve built apps that let the more experienced Fixers evaluate, comment, and instruct the new Fixers while in the field.
Our novice level Fixers will be earning in weeks, debt-free, even though certifying in all of the fifteen or so different handyman disciplines will take several years. During that journey, we offer our Fixers ample opportunity to consistently succeed. And a the end of that journey, we’ll help our Fixers branch out: into their own specialized trades businesses, into the unions, or even to stay on to expand our growing footprint.
We’re decades away from solving our cities’ lack of skilled tradespeople. But…
The Fixer trade school is a start.