Supporting Skilled Trades With Technology

Explore the transformative power of digital tools and trainings for skilled trades.

By Kyle Spencer
From the June 2024 Issue


Our world depends on skilled tradespeople like electricians, construction workers, technicians and others to not only design and build our physical infrastructure, but also maintain and protect it for years to come. However, due to factors like the “Great Retirement” — a trend caused by an aging trades workforce and not enough younger folks stepping up to fill the gaps — and persistent stigmas around blue-collar careers, the skilled trades industry continues to face labor shortages.

The lack of qualified workers to fill a rising number of open roles is affecting the sector in many ways, creating hiring and retention challenges and delays in completing or taking on new projects. In fact, 2023 research conducted by The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) found that out of the 310 U.S.-based tradespeople surveyed, 53% believed that the shortage of qualified candidates was going to be a top roadblock in 2024. It may also directly or indirectly result in other challenges like less knowledge-sharing and collaboration on job sites.

Skilled Trades
The skilled trades industry continues to face hiring and retention challenges. (Photo: Adobe Stock / mestudio)


One important step the industry can take to combat these labor shortages — while simultaneously helping workers do their jobs well, stay engaged, and advance their careers— is modernizing its traditional approach with digital tools and trainings. By embracing rather than resisting digital transformation and the implementation of technology, the skilled trades sector can improve the day-to-day lives of current workers while fostering the next generation of talent.

Workers Want More Technology

The skilled trades will always be people-centric, but that doesn’t mean technology can’t be implemented to optimize workers’ daily performance and responsibilities, especially in today’s tight labor market in which workers are already stretched thin. The NFPA survey demonstrates that many employees are eager and ready to integrate digital solutions into their workflows, with 70% expressing interest in trying new and diverse tools on the job site.

When tradespeople show up to any job site, they’re focused on doing high-quality work, especially considering the real-world impact of the infrastructure they’re building or maintaining. When structures are designed and built correctly the first time, there are fewer safety liabilities and less need for unnecessary (and costly) repairs in the future. Digital tools can give workers the instruction and assurance they need to do their jobs well and exceed expectations. Twenty-eight percent of survey respondents noted that technology will improve the accuracy of their operations while, critically, helping keep them safe.

Skilled Trades
(Photo: Adobe Stock / Mr.Bolota)


Further, today’s skilled trades workers don’t want to work in siloes. Many employees (46%) believe digital tools facilitate better communication between workers on job sites and in offices, helping them swap notes, materials, and live code updates in real time. Similarly, it’s common for “veterans” of trade occupations to mentor their younger counterparts, passing along their wealth of knowledge. But considering trends like the Great Retirement, digital tools play a key role in preserving this historical knowledge in digital form — enabling long-time workers to create notes within code publications, curate collections, and bookmark specific sections for posterity.

Digital Trainings Bolster Skills And Careers

In addition to adopting tools like digital code books, the industry is also making the shift from all in-person to hybrid or fully online trainings. Why? First, hosting training sessions on virtual platforms allows employees to learn at their own pace and removes constraints like commuting time and expenses. This enables workers to carve out time for training at their convenience, giving them more control over their schedules and boosting their efficiency. Second, digital training platforms can standardize learning and ease collaboration between workers on a global scale.

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Online trainings, certifications, and memberships are also helping workers shape their career paths and open doors to new opportunities. Over half of the respondents to the NFPA’s survey plan to upskill by participating in more trainings than they did in 2023, and 42% intend to make this same increase in the number of certifications they earn. This data illustrates just how motivated tradespeople are to deepen their knowledge and expertise and increase their value in the field. Accessible learning also gives workers the confidence they need to tackle a wider range of projects, providing them with the know-how to carry out tasks properly and safely. From the perspective of employers, dedicating more resources to trainings will also go a long way toward attracting and retaining qualified talent.

Like many other sectors, the skilled trades are at a critical juncture where digital transformation is non-negotiable to address labor shortages and keep up with changing demands and high workloads. By leaning into digital tools and trainings, the industry can draw workers in, keep them satisfied, and offer them opportunities to continuously learn and grow in their careers. Qualified tradespeople are more in demand than ever before, so now is the time to innovate and modernize the trades to ensure the sustainability of the fields.

Skilled TradesFor over three years, Spencer has been working alongside his peers at NFPA to develop NFPA LiNK, providing digital access to codes and standards. Now serving as the Director and Product Owner of NFPA LiNK, he oversees the strategic direction for the application and helps support ongoing development and content creation efforts. Spencer has spent over a decade working in the electrical products industry, learning from engineers and installers on how to make the products they use more efficient.

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