The AI-Proof Career No One Is Talking About

...because what impacts workers impacts recruiters.

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Mar 18, 2024

With all the hype about AI replacing jobs, it’s a wonder that we haven’t just given up and started worshiping our robot overlords already. Just about every day, a new article appears to breathlessly warn us of all the jobs that will be lost due to AI: customer service, finance, graphic design, and even consultants. They are all destined to be replaced by an algorithm.

Part of the problem is that these articles can’t seem to agree on which jobs might be at stake or which are safe. So many variables factor into how AI impacts work, and it’s difficult to predict where things will land right now. First and foremost, how will we allow AI to impact work?

Every technology promises to disrupt the world, and then we normalize and adapt. We are firmly in the predictive stage of AI, so I’m skeptical of the prognosticators.

What’s novel about this wave of change is that it’s pretty clear that knowledge workers are the most at risk of impacting their jobs by AI. (Please note: this does not mean other workers aren’t at risk. Read for context. Thank you.) This is a flip from past developments that saw traditionally blue-collar workers struggling to imagine the brave new world of work.

And what impacts workers impacts recruiters, so recruiters must pay attention.

Recruiters have already felt the impact on the tech side and know that while this industry has its ups and downs, there has been a disturbance in the Force that will have longer-term impacts. I’ve written before about ways recruiting leaders can continue to prove their worth in an organization, even with hiring slowdowns. Still, there will come a time when recruiters will need to take a hard look at the industry in which they work and decide whether it’s for them.

And that’s where the trades come in.

Unless you’ve worked for an organization that focuses on trades, it’s possible that you haven’t given this a thought. You need a plumber; you call a plumber. That’s typically as far as it goes. In a past role, I took a crash course on the importance of thinking through the development pipeline for trades. We employed a wide range of workers, including fabricators, welders, plumbers, electricians, and HVAC techs. While we didn’t have a lot of turnover, we did have a rapidly aging population starting to eye retirement. Building a sourcing pipeline for those trades is difficult, time-consuming, and competitive.

Skilled trades are one of the few areas less likely to be impacted by AI, yet they face a dire worker shortage. The American focus on getting a college degree, the accompanying stigma against blue-collar work, and a decline in vocational schools and classes across the nation have led to an alarming shortage of skilled workers.

That challenge is your opportunity.

If you’re ready to take the leap and consider a new focus for recruiting, here are some actions to consider:

Educate yourself on the trades. It’s one thing to assume you know what they are, but do you know the qualifications? Do you know which ones have apprenticeships? Did you even know apprenticeships are still a thing? Identify which trades are in highest demand in your area and focus your efforts where it makes sense. Doing your homework here will help build credibility later.

Partner with local trade schools. While this type of training declined, the labor shortage has triggered a resurgence. These schools are eager to work with organizations that can inform them of needed skills so they can shape the curriculum and provide potential employers for the students who walk through their doors. A savvy talent acquisition leader recognizes this and will be sure to build a strong, mutually beneficial relationship.

Consider establishing an in-house apprenticeship program. Hiring a fully licensed skilled trades worker is difficult — and expensive. A skilled trades worker has undergone hours of training, often in multiple disciplines, and will command a good salary. To help build your pipeline, it’s possible to establish your own program. You’ll need some licensed masters to help develop those in the apprenticeship programs and a commitment to the apprentices’ development. It can take some time to realize the full potential of your program, but once established, it’s a differentiator that could make your business a sought-after employer.

It may feel like quite the pivot to jump into a brand-new industry, but think of the possibilities! And if you’ve been questioning whether you want to stay in the industry, here’s your chance to revitalize your career.

The bottom line is that skilled trades are a ripe opportunity for someone—and it might as well be you.

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