The Rising Need for Apprentices
The need for electrician apprentices is great. As our country's infrastructure needs continue to grow, so does the need for electricians. If you're an electrical contractor, then that's great news ... if you can find qualified workers to meet your area's demand.
Our country experienced a severe economic decline in the late 2000s during The Great Recession and it affected many facets of the U.S. workforce, including electricians. As the country continues to rebound, construction is increasing, which means the need for electricians is increasing too. The problem? There is still a shortage. Baby Boomers are starting to retire and, as of 2013, 60% of the electrician workforce is 45 years or older (about 25% is 55 years or older). Where are the twenty- and thirty-somethings?
FINDING PROSPECTIVE APPRENTICES
In the U.S., there are approximately 448,000 apprentices spanning a variety of trades. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), the electrical industry is expected to experience a 23% growth rate between 2010 and 2020 for electricians. This rate is higher than the national average.
In 2015, more than 52,500 students graduated from the apprenticeship system, according to the Department of Labor (DOL). With IEC’s more than 50 chapter training centers nationwide that, in a good economy, provide training to almost 10,000 apprentices annually, our students can make up nearly 20% of all apprenticeship graduates.
“IEC’s approach to having a structured pay scale allows anyone willing to work and attend school the opportunity to earn a living and advance through the trade,” said IEC Florida West Coast Chapter (IEC-FWCC) Third-Year Instructor Harry Cunningham III. “Properly trained apprentices are in demand most anywhere in the country.”
Apprenticeship programs are beneficial to both the student and the employer. The student learns a trade and the employer gains an experienced and knowledgeable worker.
“Students get to interact with other apprentices, and this allows them to pick each other’s brains,” said IEC of Greater Cincinnati Training Director Kevin Collins. “They can talk about the different types of jobs they’ve been on and the different types of things they’ve seen.”
“It’s beneficial for the employer because they don’t have to worry about training their employees on all the facets, especially the ones that they don’t see all the time,” continued Collins. “The better an employee is trained the more they will know, the better the job will run, and the more money they will make.”
How do we increase enrollment in IEC programs to keep up with a 23% growth rate? Get prospective students excited about the industry. How do we do that? Show them how fulfilling and lucrative a career is as an electrician. We cannot expect them to find us; we must find them.
One way to reach prospective students is to attend job fairs. One outlet IEC Oklahoma City (IEC-OKC) has tapped into is the Future Farmers of America state convention. The event draws 10,000 high school students into one place, giving IEC-OKC a captive audience. The chapter recruits its newer or younger graduates to speak with prospective apprentices at these events.
“Many times, they can relate better to the individual and tell them about their success and career progression,” said IEC-OKC Executive Director Tim Yaciuk. “They are also able to provide a better description of what the average day is like.”
“Another thing former apprentices are able to do is show how they have provided for themselves and their families,” added Yaciuk. “Whether that is a benefit, such as a company truck, or the financial ability to buy themselves a truck or a house, that message is very important.”
This year, IEC-OKC tried a new approach to combat the electrician shortage they are seeing in Oklahoma.
“We reached out to high schools and spoke with teachers, asking for an opportunity to go to individual high schools to present to students in the classroom,” said IEC-OKC Apprenticeship Coordinator Robert Lowry. “This was very well received by the instructors and is giving us a direct avenue into the schools.”
ADAPT TO CHANGE
With the addition of solar, wind, and electric vehicle charging stations, the knowledge required to be an electrician is greater than ever before. With these new technological advancements, electricians can work toward becoming specialized in their field. The key is to adapt.
“The electrical trade has advanced over the years, but it will always be a lifelong, rewarding career for individuals willing to work and keep learning as changes come along,” said Cunningham.
As Baby Boomers begin to retire, it becomes even more crucial to fill those positions with young men and women eager to learn about the technologies that they will likely install during their career.
“As an instructor in the program for many years, I see students that have advanced from journeymen to supervisors, and then into office positions as estimators and managers,” added Cunningham, who was named Instructor of the Year for the 2011/2012 and 2015/2016 school years. “Advancement is possible with the right schooling.”
Control Solutions, Inc. (CSI), a Tampa-based electrical contractor and IEC member, sends all of its employees through the IEC program, noted Cunningham, who is a CSI past president and current field service engineer.
“Several of our employees have advanced into jobs with other companies since we have a limited number of positions,” said Cunningham. “We felt they would be able to grow faster at their new jobs. We are proud to see them stay in the electrical field and work their way through the many facets of the business.”
Adapting to change also means being ready for days filled with variety. There is no typical day for an electrician.
“You could be running PVC conduits in the ground,” said Collins. “You could be roughing in walls with cable, running conduit, troubleshooting a circuit, wiring up a conveyor system; the list goes on. It makes it interesting and the day goes by fast because of all of the different things that we have to do.”
The best way to keep our industry alive and full of qualified professionals is through apprenticeship. The value of mentoring is irreplaceable. Pair that with on-the-job training and technical instruction, and you’ve got a well- rounded, knowledgeable apprentice ready to take on the world with gusto. And isn’t that what we want in our industry – motivated, eager workers? Let’s give the Baby Boomers something to be proud of as they leave one chapter of their life to begin another.
1 “America’s Skilled Trades Dilemma: Shortages Loom As Most-In-Demand Group of Workers Ages." Forbes online.
Chrissy L. Skudera, Director of Curriculum Writing, IEC National