HELP WANTED: Tucson needs mechanics, carpenters and plumbers

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is warning of a “massive shortage” of skilled workers this year, including auto mechanics.
Published: Feb. 16, 2023 at 4:59 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 16, 2023 at 7:36 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is warning of a “massive shortage” of skilled workers this year, including auto mechanics.

While the creation of technical jobs continues to grow, the number of people applying for them hasn’t.

13 News looked at what’s being done to boost southern Arizona’s labor force because, without workers, businesses can’t grow or compete.

To help prevent a worker shortage crisis, local business owners and high schools are developing talent unlike they have before.

Yesterday’s “shop class” is today’s CTE, short for career and technical education.

“I can do the basic stuff like an oil change, the brakes. I can do both disc and drum,” said Laurel Beauchamp, a senior at Canyon Del Oro High. “I also did at one point help with an engine overhaul. We took out the engine completely and put a new one in.”

Students like Beauchamp are actively choosing to take CTE classes.

“I’m looking at going to Pima Community College,” Beauchamp said. “I eventually want to open my own shop with my family because my dad is a mechanic. My brother is also a mechanic. We’re a family of mechanics.”

Administrator Julie Valenzuela with Ampi Public Schools said vocational programs have changed a lot over the years, with increased academic rigor and expanding career fields. Preparing students not only for a trade career but also for college.

“It’s theory, science, hands-on skills, leadership skills, and soft skills. It’s a very robust program with a lot of opportunities for students,” said Valenzuela, director of 21st-century education.

According to the Pew Research Center, while Gen Z is on track to become the most educated generation, fewer young people are opting for hands-on jobs.

In fact, online recruiting platform Handshake tells 13 News that the application rate for full-time technical jobs like plumbing and electrical work dropped 49% last year compared to 2020.

But the number of technical jobs created in 2022 topped 45,000, an increase of 41% from 2021.

It’s not just high schools helping solve workforce challenges. Jake Cummings, president of Cummings Plumbing in Tucson is discovering and developing talent through paid apprenticeships. A high school diploma isn’t a prerequisite.

“As long as you have your head on straight and you’re willing to do some hard work. Trades is where it’s at,” Cummings said. “Plus we pay for all their tools. We buy all their hand tools. We buy them everything they’re going to need to get started and we teach them. If you start out being a plumber and you decide you don’t want to do that. You want to do HVAC, you can always switch.”

Back at CDO, senior Caleb Peterson knows the benefits of choosing a skilled trade over a traditional four-year degree that often carries tuition debt.

“I initially came into the program wanting to do computer programming, something that I wasn’t too interested in. I just heard it was a good field to go into,” Peterson said. “Then I developed a love for electrical, that turned into a love for masonry, then eventually HVAC.”

Valenzuela said CTE graduates typically earn $30,000-60,000 in their first job following graduation.

Cummings told13 News, with many trade industry jobs in the Tucson area, there’s the potential to earn a six-figure income.