Training in trades

Have you tried to hire a plumber lately? An electrician? How about a contractor to remodel your home or replace a roof? For many folks around Hancock County, it is becoming very difficult to find, retain or schedule a qualified contractor for residential or commercial work. Ask one of the local building supply houses how business is, and an exhausted face will tell you that they are very busy — busy setting sales records month after month as local construction projects keep every available tradesperson occupied.

We should find good news in these stories: elevated levels of employment, security of income for folks looking to invest money in their properties, confidence in the overall economy.

Baby boomers have started projects they’ve waited a long time to undertake, while younger property owners are working on new dwellings or fixing up our considerable supply of older homes. Realtors are happy, too; they claim that the available housing stock for sale is low while demand is generally higher than in almost a decade, another great sign of an uptick in Hancock County’s economy.

Yet beneath the silver lining, there is some troubling news. Prices are up for most building supplies. The shortage of skilled tradespeople that creates higher wages for them means higher costs for you. And given that many skilled plumbers, electricians and carpenters are among the “baby-boomer” generation, who will do this necessary work when they retire?

Too many schools have discontinued hands-on training programs. Our technical schools have yet to produce enough graduates to help meet the growing demand for skilled men and women prepared to make lasting (and profitable) careers working on home, business and summer visitor projects. Anecdotal evidence suggests that costly delays and bidding wars for skilled tradespeople are occurring in some communities, a situation that doesn’t serve middle-class families on a budget.

With local building permits increasing monthly and several large-scale housing projects already underway in Trenton, Ellsworth and elsewhere, new residential starts surely will help meet a growing demand for adequate local housing. If local young people can train to replace the generation of retiring tradespeople, it will be a win-win.

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