Chapter Corner

The New Electrician and the State of the Industry

Posted in: Features, August 2015

new_electrician.jpgAs can be imagined, the electrical industry is dramatically different than it was in 1857—when Klein Tools first set up shop. After years of watching things change, it’s clear now, more than ever, electricians are in a period of renaissance. Those just entering the field as well as those more senior are seeing how industrial advancements and generational influences play roles in the profession today. And in the midst of change, the field is growing.

Klein Tools recently released a “State of the Industry” survey, which confirms consumer trends we’ve seen throughout the years among both union and non-union electricians. Electricians are entering the field due to a steady demand for construction, both residential and industrial. They’re also joining for job security. More than one-third of electricians entered the field because they believe it is always in demand, and two-fifths entered recognizing an opportunity for long-term security. Baby Boomers are leaving the profession, which creates greater need for young electricians to get out on job sites. In fact, more than two-fifths of electricians say they’ve seen an increase in electricians leaving the field, likely due to high rates of retirement. But while there is consistent project demand, there is an emphasis on more experience.

A majority of electricians believe there are not enough experienced electricians. Two-thirds think there is a shortage of electricians with sufficient job experience. But interestingly, two-fifths believe there are not enough entry-level electricians at job sites. Rising demand in building development is creating a need for electricians with all levels of experience; it’s also creating a need for up-to-date training on new products and building standards.

There is a considerable gap in the amount of training electricians receive, and many disagree on the amount of training they think is necessary. More than one-half of electricians have received 1,000 or more hours of training, and two-thirds of electricians with fewer than 10 years of professional experience have received less than 250 hours of training. Equally, more than one-half of electricians believe 1,000 or more hours of training is necessary to becoming an effective electrician. More than one-half of entry-level electricians believe less than 250 hours of training is enough. Some with less than 10 years’ experience even believe they’ve had too much training.

Also observed in Klein’s study are electricians’ altering project preferences. Electricians have varying interests in types of work, which differ by years of experience. Electrical professionals with 20 or more years of experience are much less likely to prefer working in new home construction. And as a whole, many we surveyed said they prefer to work on industrial or utility projects, as well as commercial. What’s curious here is recognition of growth in housing and residential work, along with an increase in smart or connected homes. More than one-half of electricians identify connected homes as a current residential housing trend, and as such, one-third say they are doing more residential work. This will likely push the new sprout of electrical talent towards housing, whether or not it is their preference.

What hasn’t changed much in the electrical industry are the reasons why electricians buy hand tools. Performance and durability are cited as some of the most important factors in a hand-tool purchase. Also significant is the safety and efficiency of tools and whether or not tools are manufactured by a brand electricians trust. Made-in-the-U.S.A. is another major factor. Four in five electricians say this is very important or important to them in hand tool purchases.

Slightly static are also the ways electricians buy and hear about hand tools. Most electricians still buy their tools from a physical store or electrical supply house. Reversely, one-third of electricians with less than ten years’ experience have bought tools online, and only one in seven electricians with 20 or more years’ experience are doing the same. The trend towards buying in-person could be consumers affinity towards seeing and feeling certain products before purchasing. In the same regard, more than one-half of electricians still find out about hand tools from other electricians. Recognizing word-of-mouth as a reason to buy could be shifting though, one- third of electricians with fewer than ten years’ experience are less likely to recognize this as a primary source for information. Sources for information have greatly expanded, which is recognized by electricians moving to new technologies.

Influencing today’s electrical workforce is a consumption of media that didn’t used to exist. All the electricians we surveyed said they spend at least one hour each week using the internet. Even more remarkable is the number of electricians who moved from listening to traditional radio. For years, electricians listened to radio as they worked on job sites. Now, with new technology and more options, one-half of electricians, including three-fifths with fewer than 10 years of experience, listen to online radio or music streaming sites. And, nearly one-fifth of electricians, including more than two in five with fewer than 10 years of experience, listen to podcasts.

The electrical industry evolves constantly. Today’s electrician differs from those in generations before—from his or her reasons for entering the field, to the types of media he or she pays attention to. Klein Tools has seen the workforce go through a number of changes, and continues to keep a close eye on new professionals. What’s reassuring is the overwhelming number of electricians who take seriously the need for safe practices and training, and use high-quality tools while on the job. With constant, growing demand for building development, advancement in construction, and electricians from years’ past phasing out, Klein Tools is more focused than ever on the training and development of electrician talent.

Mark was elected as co-president of Klein Tools, an IEC National Platinum Industry Partner, in January 2015 after playing a significant role in Klein’s double-digit growth over the past four years. In his leadership, Mark is responsible for world- wide sales, marketing, customer service, and the company’s affiliates, Klein Cutlery and Klein Tools de Mexico. Mark serves on the company’s board of directors, holds a BA from the University of Iowa, an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management and has attended executive education programs at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago.