5 Trends that Will Change the Skilled Trades Industry

Lyss Welding
Lyss Welding
September 28, 2021

Technology has changed the future of the workforce, from keeping employees safer to making jobs more technically advanced. Skilled trades jobs are no exception.

Recently, we attended FABTECH, North America's largest fabrication and manufacturing exhibition, to get the scoop on the latest industry trends. Here's what to watch for now and next year.

1. Robotics & artificial intelligence

Industrial robots have been around for several decades, but they're gaining momentum, and you could learn how to use them in your skilled trades job. The World Robotics 2020 Industrial Robots report counted 2.7 million industrial robots globally. Many modern robots use artificial intelligence (AI), meaning they make decisions to solve problems.

Robots could help keep workers safer by taking on dangerous jobs or repetitive tasks that lead to wear and tear on the body. They can also create opportunities for employees to take on higher-level positions.

Keith Otterstatter, director of operations at powersport vehicle manufacturer Polaris, credited a combo of AI and human ingenuity to success. At Polaris, AI-powered vision sensors ensure that parts are fastened and assembled correctly. Meanwhile, the employees monitor robots and AI systems. Otterstatter said employees serve as "in-house experts," finding improvements for a better, more efficient process.

Fun Fact

If you've ever thought about becoming an auto technician, get used to the idea of teaching robots to perform welds or even paint cars. According to a Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis report, the automotive industry uses more robots than any other.

2. Digitization

The coronavirus pandemic shifted business online, forcing what's been called digital transformation. Digital transformation or digitization means using online or cloud-based software to store and analyze data to make business decisions. You're probably familiar with some examples, including online shopping and ordering from restaurants. Increasingly, manufacturers are digitizing too.

Angi, an online marketplace for home repairs and renovations, reported widespread adoption of digital tools among pros in the building trades in their 2021 Skilled Trades in America survey:

With these new tools, employers want to hire workers who excel at their trade and show curiosity in using data to improve processes.

"There are a lot of opportunities for people developing new-school STEM skills," Jon Sobel of manufacturing data platform Sight Machine said in a FABTECH Tech Talk. "Companies are looking for people they're confident can handle the newer technologies. Companies will invest in people who show an interest in that."

3. 3D Printing

Known in the industry as "additive manufacturing," 3D printing is changing the manufacturing game. It even had its own multi-day showcase event at FABTECH.

Conventional manufacturing starts with a material and cuts away until a part is formed. 3D printing creates something from nothing, layering on thin streams of plastic or metal.

Additive manufacturing takes a hefty investment. That's why it's commonly used today in healthcare applications — like prosthetics and PPE — where the upfront cost can reap life-changing rewards.

In the future, additive manufacturing may help counteract ongoing supply chain disruptions — like the ones caused by COVID-19 — because manufacturers can make their own parts rather than wait for building materials.

4. Virtual reality in training

Becoming a welder takes plenty of hands-on training and years of experience to master the many different types of welds, from basic techniques to advanced ones — and even underwater welding. Now, welding students can supplement their hands-on training with virtual reality (VR).

VR simulators allow vocational and trade school students to get familiar with welding techniques without wasting metal. Not only that, the simulators collect data on your accuracy and speed, giving students real-time data to react to and improve.

5. Workplace flexibility

When the pandemic-related closures went into effect, virtually any job that could be done remotely was. But what does this mean for jobs in trades that don't allow for working from home?

William LaRue of Tru-Fab Co. Metal/TFC Inc, a FABTECH speaker and Gen Z member, believes employers will need to find creative ways to offer workers flexibility if they want to recruit younger generations to the trades.

He offered examples of more flexible working arrangements, including:

Pro Tip

If you're committed to finding a position that allows you to work from home, don't miss our guide to find a remote job.

Consider a job in the skilled trades

The trades are evolving — changing alongside technological and societal advances. There's always more to learn, whether you're starting your training or climbing to the top of your trade.

The skilled trades are long-term careers with great benefits, fulfilling work, and high salaries — and they're looking for people like you every day. Consider one of these great opportunities in the skilled trades:

Lyss Welding
Lyss Welding
Contributing Writer

Lyss Welding is a staff writer who covers career and education topics for Become with Lantern. Since graduating from the University of Chicago with a bachelor's degree in linguistics, Lyss has worked in 21st century skills programs and for companies writing curriculum and training resources for students and job seekers. Her writing has also appeared on Best Value Schools and Grad School Hub.

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