Could the Toolbelt Generation usher in a new golden age for furniture? | Cindy W. Hodnett

In a recent Fox News interview, Chantal Castillo, a Sun City Welding Academy alumni, spoke about what drove her decision to choose training for a blue-collar profession instead of attending college.

Noting that she chose welding because she wanted to be “moving” and “hands on” rather than sitting in an office all day, Castillo said that welding offered her better opportunities for what she wanted out of life, and she is one of many members of a growing “Toolbelt Generation,” a group of young Millennial and Gen-Z individuals rediscovering the appeal of trade professions like plumber, welder, and electrician.

Attracted by the idea of lower education costs with the immediate payoff of a job upon graduation, Castillo and her fellow Toolbelt Generation cohorts have the potential to change the trajectory of education, the labor force, and even the housing market in the U.S. in the near future. And along with these more immediate shifts that might occur as the trade professions continue to grow in popularity, it’s also worth considering how the Toolbelt Generation will influence furniture purchases in years to come.

Return of the middle-class consumer

According to some sources, experienced trade professionals like plumbers can earn as much as $100,000 and up, while starting salaries for many of these same professions can range from $50,000 to $60,000, comparable with starting salaries for many white-collar jobs.

However, one major difference is that these trade school grads usually don’t have the same amount of student loan debt when they graduate, either paying as they go or eliminating the debt altogether in a short time as Castillo referenced. This frees up more discretionary income for younger consumers establishing households for the first time and enhances the likelihood of a furniture purchase when compared to college graduates who might be forced to return home while searching for a white-collar position that supports student loan repayment.

Aspirational furniture goals

Industry veterans often recall the heyday of furniture purchases, a time when “keeping up with the Joneses” translated into buying the best furniture one could afford, both for everyday use and for “show” when entertaining.

Today, younger consumers are often forced to buy secondhand by budget necessity, and a recent online discussion on Reddit highlights some of the thoughts about the situation. Some of the respondents to a query about how to furnish a home cited the necessity of Facebook Marketplace and thrift stores, while others outlined their own good enough/next-step/better purchases.

With less debt and stable income from graduation onward, the Toolbelt Generation — also part of an inherently visual generation on social media — is able to define the aesthetic they want to create and to be able to afford it sooner.

The scale equation

Just as urban vs. suburban can define furniture scale, the potential increase in starter home purchases could reinforce the need for smaller scale furniture in a variety of styles. Already popular with Grandmillennial aficionados, transitional and traditional silhouettes also work well in the ubiquitous smaller footprint, separate room floorplans from the 1950s and 1960s.

As trade professionals set up households for the first time, these traditional albeit “mid-century” houses invite an almost retro scale story, one that is not too big, not too small, but “just right.” And yes, after a day’s work that involves a healthy amount of physical activity, the motion category is likely to continue to grow in popularity.

And now what?

The Toolbelt Generation is in its early stages, but outside of sweeping education reforms, it seems likely that the numbers will continue to grow from a financially practical standpoint. Additionally, as competition and the need for blue-collar workers continues to grow, wages will likely increase as well.

With that in mind, the continued expansion of the Toolbelt Generation is a development to follow and one that could have a significant impact on the home furnishings category in the near future.

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