Addressing labor shortages and recruitment issues around the world
U.S. electrical contractors are not the only ones facing a labor shortage. Others around the globe are experiencing similar challenges. Here, trade groups in several countries shared how they are recruiting and training more people.
Pär Lundström, Installatörs-företagen
Apprenticeship programs take place after three years of upper secondary school or adult education school. For electricians, the apprenticeship program is 1,600 hours. In agreement with the union, we started a new concept in 2007. Inspired by Worldskills [an organization that promotes vocational skills through competitions], we agreed that a branch regulatory body, ETG Sverige, should supervise the education more closely and that the exam would be a practical test.
Vocational training has been losing ground—pupils tend to choose programs leading to university. However, the electricity and energy program has been holding ground and attracts roughly 5% of the pupils every year.
We’re finding other ways to get young people interested, including launching a YouTube channel with videos featuring young men and women talking about technical installations to young people in their own way.
During recent years, we have begun improving our ability to attract persons of foreign origin, since we have “run out” of people of Swedish origin in the labor market. For instance, there has been a strong influx of Syrians since 2015.
For people in midlife who want to change careers, we are trying to influence the Swedish government to reform adult education to open up possibilities [for them] to go back to vocational training. Sentiment is growing that anyone should be able to go back to school, including people with university degrees in social science now wanting to become electricians.
Still, we have a huge labor deficit, which we possibly need to resolve with robots and artificial intelligence.
Suresh Manickam, National Electrical and Communications Association
After high school, students can transition into university or they can go to a Registered Training Organization to pursue a trades pathway via a certification. In our case, that’s known as Certificate III Electrotechnology (Electrician), which typically takes four years to obtain.
Apprentices also have the option to complete their apprenticeship through a Group Training Organization (GTO). It’s a not-for-profit employer that hires a person for the time he or she is an apprentice, and the GTO then places the apprentice with a host employer. The GTO supports the person throughout their apprenticeship to lessen the risk that they will drop out. When they are finished with their apprenticeship, they then get a job directly with an electrical contractor.
We still have some skills shortage, as we just can’t get enough apprentices to match the demand. We’re trying ways to connect to a new generation of young people. Smart technology, IoT and automation as well as solar energy, battery storage and renewables are major drawcards for the next generation.
NECA is actively engaging with students as they consider their career choices, visiting high schools and talking to career advisers, parents and the students. We are also more actively working to recruit women to the field.
In addition, the Australian federal government is now actively addressing the skills shortage, including investing heavily in promoting trade careers and hiring a “skills ambassador” to talk up the trades to both students and their parents.
Seong-Hoon Choi, Korea Electrical Contractors Association
Our member companies raise funds to provide scholarships for college and high school students, and some companies directly support the equipment needed by schools. We also support on-site practical training.
Additionally, using the government’s support system for the unemployed, we provide full education support for those 15 and older to find employment in companies through basic electrical and practical education. We participate in a government-sponsored system of apprenticeship schools and daily learning parallel systems to work and study in and out of schools.
University and high schools are holding job fairs for prospective graduates. Corporate representatives are participating, conducting interviews and hiring.
In addition, midlife people apply for free education programs that enable them to switch jobs.
Our association designs and operates a curriculum that reflects the needs of our companies. It is mainly hands-on, offline education and provides training before hiring. The training period is six months and 700 hours, with 20% of all training sessions focused on field trips and 80% of practical exercises. Education costs are provided by utilizing the government support system.
As young people have low preference for jobs in the construction sector, it is difficult to secure sufficient manpower. As renewable energy and new growth industries have recently become an issue, young people are interested because their annual salary is relatively higher than those in other industries.
Adrian Sommer, EIT.swiss
We have a dual education system: around eighth grade, the process of choosing a career begins at school. The teacher assesses the student’s abilities and their suitability for the direction (school, office, industry, craft). Then there are aptitude tests.
Seventy-five percent of Swiss students do an apprenticeship (trade, banking, office work, etc.) At the beginning of the ninth grade, the student has to find an apprenticeship. If a company agrees, there is a trial apprenticeship.
As an association, we are responsible for the educational plans. After the apprenticeship (for an electrician, four years), there is a theoretical and practical exam. The schools are run by canton governments one day a week. The industrial course centers are ours (three weeks per year). The rest of the apprenticeship is in the company.
There are also options for older people. It depends on their background. The education time may be shorter and the salary can be set higher.
We try to make our professions very attractive. For example, professional championships (SwissSkills, EuroSkills, WorldSkills) also serve as a marketing tool for advertising the profession.
We naturally also try to improve the image of the profession with targeted support measures from teachers and counseling centers. On the website elektriker.ch, we show further training opportunities and have also implemented various job search tools.
Jorge Garcia, Federación de Colegios de Ingenieros Mecánicos y Electricistas
We have technical educational programs at secondary school and specialized high school centers where students begin to learn various trades. They graduate as technicians and have the possibility to keep studying and finish as an engineer. At FECIME, we are improving courses for certifications, and we are working to prevent nonqualified people [doing] specialized work, like gas and electrical installations.
Many of our affiliates work as teachers, consultants or planners. Also, by law, we need to maintain several hours of social work, and we use this time to offer free courses to young technicians in specialized areas not accessible in school—learning directly from engineers on the construction site.
We provide several apprenticeship training courses, divided into technical and young engineer. Last year, we began to offer these courses online for free with the idea to create a library where people can watch videos and request a test [to earn a technical qualification].
We are in the process to sign an agreement with German educators interested in recruiting young people to work at German facilities in Mexico.
We are even working in a program that will recognize Mexican engineers’ capabilities in the United States.
Andrew Eldred, Electrical Contractors’ Association
When it comes to attracting young people to the construction industry, we aren’t doing it enough, although this is starting to change. Practices among companies varies considerably, with some being very proactive—for example, cultivating close, long-term relationships with local schools.
The Electrotechnical Skills Partnership (TESP), of which ECA is a part, promotes the industry on its Electrical Careers website, which the government signposts to young people. Our largest apprenticeship training provider, JTL, also undertakes a lot of promotional work.
We don’t have programs in high schools where students are introduced to basic construction skills or learn about different trades—although this is changing. In England and Wales, the education authorities are introducing full-time foundation courses for 16–18 year olds in construction and building services engineering, including a period of work experience and a practical work-based assessment.
TESP is launching a new Industry into Education campaign. This is designed to encourage electrical employers to become more closely involved with schools and the curriculum via the government’s Careers and Enterprise Company. We will also be providing information resources, which employers can use when talking to schoolchildren, teachers and parents.
Apprenticeship training costs are almost wholly funded by the government. Apprenticeship funding in England, although not elsewhere in the United Kingdom, is available to older people on the same basis as for school-leavers.
Whilst there is no general shortage of applicants, some employers do complain that not enough are of the right caliber to complete the apprenticeship. Efforts to boost the numbers applying are mainly about increasing the overall quality of the pool of candidates.
Mauri Moilanen, STUL
We are investing in a marketing campaign in order to get the attention of young, smart boys and girls to this field and the opportunities it gives. One advantage we have is that this field can offer work which has significance concerning the climate problems. If young people want to save the world, this is the right subject to study.
We are going to use many channels and work together with other associations. Young people follow YouTubers and listen to them and therefore we are partnering with some widely followed YouTubers. We are participating in many fairs targeted to young people who are planning their future and studies. We are contacting guidance counselors in the schools and will give them materials about our field.
We have as our members about 100 schools (colleges, vocational schools, universities) that provide education in this field. Together, we are developing models for on-the-job-learning. We have developed an application where students can enter their personal learning plans and register all the tasks and work that they have done relating to it. This same application is available to the teachers and to contractors so that they both can assess the learning progress.
Todd W. Stafford, NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Alliance
NECA and member firms try to attract young people to the construction industry via social media and career days at secondary education facilities. They also participate in school programs by volunteering their time and/or equipment.
More older adults have been applying, and because of this, the average age of apprentices has increased over the past two decades.
We still face a labor shortage, though it is regionalized and it’s due more to of a lack of quality labor and supervision shortage. However, no specific region has a consistent shortage, as the workforce is mobile to a great extent.