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Navigating the Tight Labor Market for Skilled Trades

Mike Chambers, left, and Mike Rowe. Photo courtesy of Mike Chambers.

Mike Chambers, owner of Chambers Painting Contracting, LLC in Sellersburg, Ind., had experienced a similar problem in recent years to many other contractors: He simply could not find enough qualified help.

His luck changed, though, after a viral encounter with “Dirty Jobs” television host Mike Rowe, which sent numerous new applicants in his direction. You can hear all about that in a recent podcast from our CoatingsPro Interview Series.

In that episode, Chambers offered his perspective regarding the current marketplace challenges when it comes to hiring skilled tradespeople, as well as some potential solutions. Read on for his perspective, find it in the May 2022 issue’s Industry Insights, and listen to the entire episode below.

The main problem we’re having these days is with skilled trades. It just seems like no one wants to get their hands dirty and do hard work. I know the best kind of training is on-the-job training, but it would be nice to have some kind of apprenticeship program to bring in these kids who are out of school and teach them.

Painting is a very good business. I have never been out of work in 39 years. If vocational schools and high schools would add coatings and blasting, it could be a big thing. Even if you did go to college, you could always paint on the side. I’m actually working with some schools here in Indiana to try to get this into all the schools.

It’s a tough business. Back in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and the 2000s, it was no problem at all, but now it seems like since 2010 on, we can’t get good, qualified help. We used to have federal funding years ago. In 2005, there was a place here that was federally funded, and it taught people all kinds of different trades. It was sort of like a mini-college. But until we get some kind of federal help, we’ve just got to hire these people and hope for the best — and once we get them trained and get them where we want, we have to hope they stick with the company.

And the problem is definitely getting worse. We’d also have to increase the pay by around $4–5 an hour, and I’ve added on some benefits. Now we’re paying all holidays, and I’ve gone from one week of vacation to two weeks of vacation. There are some perks like these that we can include to keep the crews.

I’m also going to start paying someone to come in on Saturdays and start training people in my warehouse. There’s a lot of things that we can train people on, including how to mix paints and coatings; how to apply, how to spray, what tips to use; and so on. We’re going to start doing that, and then we’re going to work with some of these people from the high school level and teach them on the weekends. I think we’re going to hopefully change that part of the industry for us.

But other than that, we’re just going to have to train, and we’re going to have to do in-house training. There’s just no other choice. I’m not knocking young people, there’s some that really do want to work, but there’s a lot of young people who just don’t want to get their hands dirty.

For more information, contact: Chambers Painting Contracting, LLC,

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