Lowe’s brings together employers and schools like San Joaquin Valley College to help fill skilled trades gap
Written from an interview with Nick Gomez, President, San Joaquin Valley College (SJVC) and Michael Mitchell, Trade Skills and Learning Innovation, Lowe’s Home Improvement
Lowe’s Home Improvement and more than 60 companies, including San Joaquin Valley College, are working together to change the image of the skilled trades.
The movement, called Generation T, is meant to help fill the skilled trades gap that analysts predict will leave 3 million jobs open by 2028. However, it does more than just make people aware of the career opportunities in the skilled trades; a website also helps to match people interested in the skilled trades with schools that offer training and employers that offer apprenticeships and jobs, all searchable by ZIP code.
Michael Mitchell, Lowe’s senior director of Trade Skills and Learning Innovation, said Lowe’s wanted to usher in a movement with Generation T, realizing that Americans weren’t considering trades as a path to success. “It’s much more than just a campaign,” he said. “All paths to prosperity come through education; this just happens to be a different brand of education.”
Mitchell said they brought together national brands to help people realize where the opportunities are headed in skilled trades. “This is an opportunity to change Americans’ hearts and minds, and get the education systems and the workforce more closely knitted together,” he said.
It’s not just an awareness campaign. “We realized that it would have a short life if it was just about raising awareness,” Mitchell said. “We really want to get institutions of education closely connected to the workforce, but also use some of our national brands to bring holistic awareness about the high growth opportunities in that space.”
Generation T aims to shift the societal perception of the trades by demonstrating the economic mobility possible, exposing children to trade education early and encouraging students to explore career options beyond four-year degree programs.
Mitchell said the lack of people working in skilled trades is a societal issue that everyone should care about. For example, a study by the National Association of Homebuilders and Wells Fargo found that the cost of labor is driving up the cost of housing, while the Joint Center for Housing found that the cost of disaster-related repairs has nearly doubled in the past two decades. In disaster areas that means there are severe shortages of skilled tradesmen and women to do the cleanup and repair, he said.
Part of the solution is reaching out to high school students to let them know that skilled tradesmen are not only needed, but that the trades are also a good career. With 1,700 stores in the United States, Lowe’s store leaders will do outreach with local high schools.
“We learned early on that a lot of high school principals want to start to have this discussion with their classes, particularly those that don’t have a construction class, or if they do, can’t get a steady enrollment increase,” Mitchell said. Lowe’s has hosted skilled trades immersion workshops with students who attend Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which is the second largest school district in North Carolina and near Lowe’s corporate headquarters. They are looking at doing similar classes in California schools next fall.
“It’s not just lectures, but we actually teach students hands-on activities, such as tiling or building dog houses,” he said. “In the end, the message we want to get to them and their parents is that this is a high-growth future.”
Lowe’s is also targeting high school parents and students on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter with its message about the trades. “We have a constant drumbeat of infographics, including informational and inspirational videos,” Mitchell says. “A lot of high schools are reaching out to us to come talk to their high school students, particularly those who are not sure if they want to attend a four-year college.”
Lowe’s has recently started working with San Joaquin Valley College, asking SJVC to have an academic coach ready to make a phone call after someone signs up to learn about local skilled trade programs on the Generation T website. SJVC is a family-owned junior college with 15 campuses throughout California, as well as online.
Generation T connects prospective skilled trade professionals to colleges, apprenticeships and jobs through the https://www.WeAreGenerationT.com website. The website explains what people in various trades fields do and what skills are required. Additionally, partners provide information on training and jobs in the field, all searchable by ZIP code. The website also provides promotional materials to convince people that careers in the trades are real and viable options.
Mitchell said Lowe’s created the website once they realized a marketplace was needed for skilled trades, vocational schools or community or junior community colleges throughout the country. They were not particularly connected. “Getting jobs in the skilled trades can sometimes be difficult because it’s very informal,” he said. “So the essence of wearegenerationt.com is that it is the centralized hub for the movement where people can get educated about the trades. But more importantly, it’s where community colleges, builders and installers could feature their companies or organizations by ZIP code and the particular training opportunities, apprenticeships or entry-level positions that they have available.”
The website really has two different audiences: prospects, or people looking for opportunities, and builders, plumbers and other employers who have formalized apprenticeship programs throughout the country. “This is a living, breathing marketplace and every day we see new partners – installers, builders and community colleges – joining the platform, forming a custom profile, listing classes and apprentice and job opportunities,” Mitchell said. “The user experience is really defined for those who never thought that in a million years they would pursue a career in a skilled trade.”
Mitchell said they first wanted to make sure people had one place to look online for information about the skilled trades. “But now we’re going to start to build a cadence with our partners like San Joaquin. We have had discussions with a couple of California locations for hosting a skilled trade workshop with even a larger scope. We’re looking to our partners to institutionalize some event space.”
SJVC President Nick Gomez and their junior college decided to get involved in Generation T after learning that Lowe’s and its partners saw the value in trades training and occupations. “We saw this as a wonderful opportunity because we’re positioned … in our local communities to help address the job skills gap, while helping to positively change lives over the next decade,” he said. “For us, the connection was a good one in that we educate and train students in trades programs.”
SJVC has programs in aviation maintenance technology; construction management; electrical technology; heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration; industrial maintenance technology; and information technology.
It’s simple to become a local or national partner, Mitchell said. “We ask national partners such as San Joaquin to share six social posts a year,” he explained, adding that they provide sponsors with Facebook and Instagram posts that say they’re proud supporters of Generation T. “We all need one voice, but many hands.”
But the Generation T movement also ensures that each partner is taking its role seriously and following up when a prospect expresses an interest in skilled trades online.
“So when somebody inquiries about an enrollment opportunity, a training program, a free apprenticeship or an associate’s degree, are they responsive?” Mitchell said. “Are they providing those students with a good experience? That’s what a partnership really looks like. We’ve not asked for any financial contributions from any of our 60-plus partners.”
Partners include Bosch, Samsung, Armstrong Flooring and The National Association of Homebuilders, to name a few. “The list continues to grow,” Mitchell said. “We plan to have more than 100 national partners by the end of 2019.
But they also will have local partners, such as a plumber with his or her limited liability corporation. “They deserve a voice, but we’re not counting on them to spread awareness,” Mitchell said. “That’s more our role. Their role is to take in new talent.”
SJVC only recently became a partner, so it’s too early to discuss the benefits they have seen so far. “But we are very well positioned to respond to any inquiries that are sent our way and we look forward to doing so,” Gomez said. “We have trades programs on campuses throughout the state of California so I anticipate there will be some great opportunities for us to serve as people raise their hands.”
Gomez recommended that other career colleges get involved in Generation T. “The demand for the trades is massive and, as much as we would like, San Joaquin Valley College is not positioned to meet it individually,” he said. “It’s very much about offering quality trades programs that participants can commit to and benefit from so that they’re able to find success in these career fields.”
In the long term, Mitchell hopes that Generation T will continue to grow and match people with prospective apprenticeships, entry-level opportunities and training programs. “For near-term purposes, we’d like to get 1,000 or so opportunities on the platform, as well as 100 national partners by the end of 2019,” he said.
“Then we want to more confidently say what we can realistically do over the next five years,” he said. “We’re going to learn a lot in the next year because what we’re finding is there are a lot of regional training institutions around the country that are interested. We want to make sure that we’re driving a cadence of the platform to really come out and talk about what those clear objectives are for the business.”
For SJVC, Generation T is another avenue for prospective students who have an interest in the trades to find those opportunities and options in the communities where they live, Gomez said. “We’re very proud to offer programs that facilitate these trade skills and provide an education for participants,” he said. “This is another avenue of approach where they can learn about us and what we have to offer.”
Mitchell said Lowe’s is committed to the program for the long term. “We see it as pulling together a single centralized area for people who want to promote awareness, but also for people who are looking for opportunities that they didn’t know existed within a couple of blocks of their home.”
NICK GOMEZ is the President of San Joaquin Valley College (SJVC) where he previously served 14 years in roles such as Chief Operating Officer, Assistant Vice President and Campus Director.
As President, Nick leads SJVC with a team of senior leaders. He balances his extensive operations background with leadership abilities to implement strategic long and short-term goals for the College. His focus on financial sustainability assures stable growth while his commitment to strong community relations deepens roots for a shared future.
In addition, Nick served as General Manager for U.S. operations at a global manufacturing company in the telecom and automotive industry while traveling internationally and working within a variety of culturally diverse settings.
Nick holds a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) with concentrations in Leadership and Managing Organizational Change from Pepperdine University. He studied at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, with a focus on Emerging Business Opportunities. His education and training from the Kaplan and Norton Palladium Group on building a Strategy Focused Organization (SFO) earned him the Balanced Scorecard Certification.
Contact Information: Nick Gomez // President // San Joaquin Valley College (SJVC) // www.SJVC.edu // https://www.facebook.com/SJVCs