Introducing Griot

Sean Miller
4 min readNov 12, 2021
A shoe repairman and his young apprentice — Wikipedia

There are over 11 million skilled trades workers in the United States today. And for every one of them, the following scenario is all too common. A field technician shows up to a job site, whether that be a residential housing unit or commercial building. They walk up to what they are supposed to work on, and after initial inspection realize that something is off — a previous repair was not done in a standard fashion, the equipment is so old they can’t read the nameplate and thus can’t diagnose the problem, or they simply can’t fix what is going wrong. I have seen this problem across trades, from electricians to HVAC technicians, plumbers to low voltage technicians, and property maintenance staff to smart home installers. It’s not a problem that can be solved solely through training, it’s a problem that gets solved through experience — working through different scenarios over time, and relying on your teammates for help learning how to solve new things.

The challenge is that it takes considerable time to gain this experience, moving from an apprentice, to a journeyman and eventually a master. Even when you become a master, changes around us mean we continue to learn how to solve new problems. While training helps to prepare tradespeople, training can only cover so much at a time. And training itself takes time, which is something that skilled workers lack. In fact, field technicians have been in such high demand in recent years that many struggle to find the time to get training on new techniques or items — they simply have to figure it out in the field.

The demand for skilled technicians is only growing. Before the COVID pandemic started, there was a growing shortage of skilled trades. In construction for example, there are still 1.5m jobs that have not been filled since the Great Recession. For the past decade, the trades have ranked among the top five hardest roles to fill — in greater demand than sales representatives, engineers, or IT professionals.

Adding to that demand, the trades face an aging workforce, with over a quarter over age 55.

70% of service organizations believe they’ll be burdened by the knowledge loss of a retiring workforce in the next 5 to 10 years. This movement of Baby Boomers to retire has only accelerated since COVID started in early 2020. In fact, the share of the population in retirement from February 2020 to April 2021 was higher by 1.5 million people than it would have been if the 2019 retirement trend had continued, according to the Dallas Fed. All of this adds up to a shortage in the skilled technicians we need. Among the 1.3 million annual skilled trade job openings, there are 15 openings due to replacements and only 1 due to new job created. At this rate, by 2022 the number of U.S. skilled trades jobs is projected to exceed the number of adequately trained workers by 3.4 million.

We are entering a perfect storm — the skilled trades that help keep the world around us working are facing a shortage of new workers coming in, current workers retiring faster than expected, and overall more demand for their services. This overall higher demand is driving wages for skilled trades higher, which is great for the technicians, but puts pressure on their managers and the business owners to make sure technicians are as efficient as possible.

Personally, I grew up in a family filled with skilled trades — carpenters, machinery, construction, manufacturing and electrical workers. Professionally, over the past 20 years of my career, I have had the opportunity to work with skilled trades — automotive technicians at Toyota, general contractors at Voltec, plumbers and electricians at Generac, smart home installers at WeMo / Belkin, and security dealers and low voltage technicians at PointCentral / And in recent years, I have seen the above perfect storm impact the skilled trades. My curiosity was growing — there had to be a way to help the skilled trades that was easy, reliable and economical.

My curiosity drove me to investigate what was available. In recent times, there have been new technology tools, such as VR goggles, offered to technicians in order to try and improve training or in-field communication. While there have been some successes around VR training, especially when technicians couldn’t come into training centers, or documentation cameras, such as Built or OpenSpace, most of the tools designed for use by field technicians were never worthy of the technician’s time — they were either too complicated to use, still too far ahead of their time (like most AR/VR tools), or too expensive.

My curiosity continued to grow — there has to be a better way.

Earlier this year, I was catching up with Nate Williams and Chris Kim at Union Labs, and I happened to share my thoughts on this opportunity. They agreed on the need, and shared thoughts on a concept, Griot, that they were incubating to help solve exactly this problem.

Fast forward several months later, and I have joined Griot as CEO and Co-Founder. A Griot (pronounced gree-OH) is a West African historian and storyteller — a revered and important bard who passes knowledge between people. The early team and I feel that this important cultural icon was a great inspiration for our mission — to facilitate the tradition of sharing knowledge within the skilled trades, by augmenting their in-field communication and knowledge sharing with modern, simple, and reliable tools that help skilled technicians in all size organizations and in all trades get their work done on time and in one trip.

To Griot, the skilled trades are critical to our society, and they are facing daunting challenges. Creating tools to help them doesn’t have to be complex or expensive — they have to be simple to use, reliable and readily accessible.

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