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IEC National President Testifies Before Congress on Labor Shortage

Posted in: Legislative Updates

On Sept. 7, 2017, IEC National President Bruce Seilhammer testified before the House Small Business Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Tax, and Capital Access at a hearing titled, "Examining the Small Business Labor Market." Seilhammer informed the subcommittee of the challenges faced by merit shop electrical contractors to find qualified electricians and how government-mandated ratios limit their ability to employ and train the electricians of the future.

Seilhammer explained to Subcommittee members how qualified electricians are among hardest positions to fill among all trades. This challenge is expected to continue in the coming years, with the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) estimating there to be a 14 percent increase in demand for electricians through 2024. Construction employers as a whole are experiencing trouble hiring new workers with an estimated 500,000 skilled construction jobs currently vacant.

"The cultural shift in our country over the past few decades has definitely had an impact on this," explained Seilhammer. "A significant emphasis has been placed on young people to attend a traditional four-year university, and a career in the trades is rarely discussed as an option. Not helping matters is that many jurisdictions judge the success of their high schools on the number of students that attend college. In areas where this is the case, guidance counselors and school officials have less incentive to suggest students consider entering an apprenticeship program, like IEC."

Seilhammer further explained how government-mandated ratios serve as artificial restrictions that prevent IEC from training the future electricians, helping close the skills gap. One example of this is in the State of Pennsylvania, which requires a ratio of three electrical journeymen to one apprentice on all projects. "My company has 28 electricians, but we could easily use five more journeymen," said Seilhammer. "But with a limited availability of qualified electricians, we have to grow our own through apprenticeship. With hundreds of thousands of construction jobs going unfilled year after year, this type of [ratio] restriction on the industry will eventually start to impact our ability to build, repair and maintain our country's infrastructure, schools, businesses, factories, and more."

IEC urges legislators develop public policy that will further assist the skilled trades close the skills gap and increase the number of men and women entering construction apprenticeships, like IECs. "We look forward to working with Congress and the Trump administration to find practical solutions to address the workforce shortage faced by merit shop electrical contractors and the construction industry as a whole," said Seilhammer.