As an instructor for the electrical industry going as far back as the early 1990’s, I want to sound the alarm of the growing downward trend within our industry. Not being able to meet the needs of new skilled workers for the demands of today as well as tomorrow. This holds true for all the trades. Although the needs are felt across all the business sectors, the trades are hit especially hard. If the forecasts are true, we will not have enough skilled tradesmen and women to replace those Baby Boomers that are looking at retirement right between the eyes. By 2030 the need for skilled construction workers are projected to increase by 10% which is faster than any other sector. And looking at the inflow, only 17% of high school students want a skilled trade compared to 76% who seek employment in the tech sector. You might be able to predict what happens when the market is flooded with a large workforce.
Training is just one aspect of the problem. Whether one goes through a registered apprenticeship or as in some other areas of the country, learns from in-house or on the job. There needs to be a change in the way employers look at their employees and how they are trained.
I am proud to be a graduate apprentice from ABC of Florida. I received a Journeyman certification from West Palm Beach in 1987. After completing more classes to get my Master electrical license, I relocated to Arizona in 1990. I learned quickly that licensed credentials for the trades was not required. This reality changed my life as I became an instructor for IEC of AZ and continue to train the next generation of skilled electricians even to this day.
But where are the new workers? In order to replace the “graying” in the trades, I feel we need to reach out and promote the needs and opportunities. Promote “earn as you learn” and promote how exciting it is to construct a new building or structure. Bragging about a repair to that which was broken. The colleges and universities have been very successful in promoting nugatory academic degrees and hiding the actual costs and long-term debt. On the other side, the trades have failed to promote the opportunities and benefits of learning a trade which can earn income while learning and will never be outsourced or replaced by robots or A.I. The demand for skilled professionals is ever increasing and if you are willing to keep learning, you will always be in demand and be compensated accordingly.
Even during economic slowdowns, I have never been without work for more than a week. I have been laid-off on Friday and employed on Monday. I have usually found work within a day or two and always with a new organization and always with equal or more pay and benefits. I have been in the trade since 1978 and I never had to reconsider my decision to become an electrician. Yes, there were some bad jobs and maybe some unlikable people that could not be avoided, but I set my goals and achieved them as time permitted. I also have many mentors along the way that I need to thank for taking the time to teach me. That is what I want to continue to pass on.
This is what I am encouraging the industry to do today. Take the time to train. Train downstream. Training employees can also help with retention as well. Training helps minimize mistakes and safety hazards which can support the bottom line. Profits! If the company is profitable it can reinvest in the employees and provide better benefits.
We need to also embrace a “Culture of Training”. Give the skilled personnel some liberty to take a few minutes on the jobsite to address the strengths and weaknesses of the workforce and make adjustments to cross train, train down and even train up. Share your experiences. Share the tips and tricks that you have that cannot be learned in a textbook. We all need to be advocates for the industry and promote all the opportunities. Find new ways to educate and train. Use technology in your training delivery. The apprenticeships can introduce hand-on labs but in reality the lab is in the field. Let the learner learn and show them how to do it. We cannot have a guarded mindset thinking that someone may take your job from you. Successful people are those that help others to succeed. Create opportunities for others to succeed.
As an apprentice, I strived to be a foreman, then I got there. Next was a project manager, then I got there. The next goal was to be a contractor, then I got there. I never dreamed that I would be in the position that I have now. This career will offer many forks in the road which could lead you to do whatever you want to do and make as much money as you want to make. But rarely does anything good come easily.
I am an advocate for licensed electricians. It seems dangerous to allow untrained people to work on projects that could potentially have installations that could kill people or damage property. Some argue that the inspector’s role is to prevent that. But the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) may observe only 10 – 20% of the actual installation.
While a nail technician needs a license to do someone’s nails at a local resort or salon, in some states, anyone can claim four years in the trade a claim to be a qualified journeyman electrician. Think about that!
Let us start as an industry to open the gates of opportunity and empower everyone to enter all trades as a skilled and safe worker. Provide the training they want and need. Allow every skilled worker on the jobsite to train up and down as a new culture. Invest in training your employees so they have the knowledge and skills to represent the company at a higher level and gain more clients who trust you to perform the goals of completing the job with minimal effort and at a higher-level of safety.
If we do not address this problem head on now, we will have to accept the consequences later. Of which could include high costs of doing business, unskilled employees, dangerous workplaces, and schedules being delayed. Invest in your future. Invest in training. Invest in your people. Encourage a culture of training to your leads in the field as well!