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The Role of Trades in Combating Small Local Community Migration

30 April 2024

In recent years, small communities have been grappling with the challenge of an outflow of their younger generations seeking opportunities elsewhere. This migration drains local talent, disrupts community cohesion, and weakens the economic vitality of these areas. Is it possible that focusing on trades such as welding, plumbing, electrical work, and others can serve as a potent strategy to reverse this trend and even revitalize small communities? By investing in trade education and fostering supportive environments for tradespeople, these communities can create sustainable local economies and provide attractive opportunities for their residents.


One compelling aspect of trades is the immediate demand. Unlike some fields that may require years of specialized education, trades offer quick entry into the workforce. As an example, a person can complete a welding certification program in as little as six months and start earning a respectable income right away. This is particularly beneficial for small communities where traditional higher education may be financially out of reach for many residents.


As an example, many communities struggled to retain its younger population, as the opportunities in nearby cities seem more promising. However, recognizing the potential of trades, local leaders can collaborate with vocational schools and industry partners to establish a comprehensive welding program. They can offer scholarships, apprenticeships, and job placement assistance to encourage residents to pursue careers in welding.


The results can be remarkable. Not only will the welding program attract young people seeking stable employment, but it can also spark a renewed sense of pride in craftsmanship within the community. Welders will always find themselves in high demand, not only locally but also in neighboring towns. As word will spread about the success of these programs, other trades, such as plumbing and electrical work, also gained traction. Your community can become known as a hub for skilled trades, attracting both residents and outside investment.


Moreover, focusing on trades fosters self-reliance and resilience within small communities. Rather than relying on external forces for economic stability, communities can harness the talents and resources already present within their midst. This sense of empowerment is crucial for combating the sense of helplessness that often accompanies depopulation and economic decline.


Research supports the notion that trades can serve as a catalyst for community development. A study conducted by the Brookings Institution found that regions with strong vocational education programs experienced lower unemployment rates and higher rates of economic growth compared to those without such programs. Additionally, communities with a diverse array of skilled tradespeople were better equipped to weather economic downturns, as they could provide essential services regardless of external market conditions.


Furthermore, trades offer opportunities for entrepreneurship and small business development. A skilled plumber or electrician, for example, can easily establish their own contracting business, serving the needs of their community while generating income and creating jobs. This entrepreneurial spirit not only stimulates economic activity but also instills a sense of ownership and investment in the community's future.


Another example might a community that recognizes the shortage of skilled tradespeople in the area, residents can take matters into their own hands. They can organize workshops, mentorship programs, and business incubators to support aspiring tradespeople in starting their own enterprises.  These businesses can not only provide essential services to the community but also contributed to its economic diversity and resilience. A small local community can certainly become a model for rural communities seeking to harness the potential of trades for local development.


Focusing on trades such as welding, plumbing, electrical work, and others can be a powerful strategy for combating migration and revitalizing small communities. By investing in trade education, fostering supportive environments for tradespeople, and promoting entrepreneurship, communities can create sustainable local economies that provide attractive opportunities for residents. The impact of trades extends far beyond the workshop or construction site—it has the potential to transform the fabric of entire communities.


John Newby is a nationally recognized Columnist, Speaker, & Publisher. He consults with Chambers, Communities, Business & Media. His “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,” column appears in 60+ newspapers and media outlets. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists chambers, communities, media, and businesses in creating synergies that build vibrant communities. He can be reached at: John@Truly-Local.org.