Attracting Next-Gen Electricians: Strategies to meet the demand for skilled labor

Published On
Feb 15, 2021

Electrical contractors have known for a number of years that they need to either introduce or improve existing recruiting strategies to bring workers into the trade. The demand for electricians continues to increase, while the potential supply of candidates seems to be on the decline, as other industries and professions have also been working harder to attract new people to their lines of work.

Electrical contracting is expected to experience a significantly increased demand in the coming years. This makes the challenge of finding new people for the industry even more formidable.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of electricians is expected to increase 8% from 2019 to 2029, “much faster than the average for all occupations.” In fact, while employment demand for electricians is projected to grow 8%, the overall total employment demand for all professions together is half that at 4%.

The BLS adds that, increases “in construction spending and demand for alternative energy sources will drive demand for electricians.” Alternative power generation, such as solar and wind, will require more electricians to “link these alternative power sources to homes and power grids over the coming decade.”

Openings are created by workers who change occupations or who leave the labor force because of retirement or disability.

Overall, the BLS reported that there were 739,200 electricians in the workforce in 2019 and predicts a need for 801,400 by 2029, an increase of 62,200 workers (8.4%).

The numbers by industry

The construction industry employs the most electricians—537,700, with a demand for 598,200 expected by 2029, an increase of 11.4%. Specifically, the “specialty trades” in construction employ 509,800, with a demand for 566,400 in 2029. The “building construction” area (residential and nonresidential) employs 15,000, with expected demand climbing to 17,600 by 2029. The “utility system construction” area (power and communication lines, highway, street and bridge construction, etc.) employs 10,800, going up to 12,000 in 2029.

Manufacturing employs 52,400, and it is predicted to stay close to that level.

Government employs 23,800, with a demand for 24,600 expected by 2029. Here, the largest area is “local government” (excluding education and hospitals), which currently employs 15,000, with demand increasing to 16,000 electricians by 2029.

Educational services (state, local and private, including elementary schools, secondary schools, community colleges and universities) employs 11,100, with a 3.9% increase expected by 2029.

Utilities employ 8,200, with demand expected to decrease to 7,800 by 2029.

Strategies

Of course, there are plenty of ways to attract new people to your business. Among these are asking your current employees to “get the word out” to their friends, neighbors and extended family members; using social media; advertising in local newspapers and other media; posting openings on job search websites; and using your own website.

However, one strategy that a number of contractors find particularly useful is partnering with local high schools and community colleges to expose students to the opportunities and benefits of seeking a career as an electrician.

Brooks-Berry-Haynie & Associates

When Brooks-Berry-Haynie & Associates Inc., Mableton, Ga., needed to find entry-level help, it was typically able to do so by word-of-mouth—i.e., someone knew someone who wanted a job.

“The problem was that most of these [people] only wanted a job, and not a career,” said Andy O’Kelley, chief operating officer.

Now, however, by partnering with a school’s building construction program, the company can observe and get to know students, sometimes for up to four years, and begin to mold them into what it needs.

“Now we have students who know they want careers in the electrical field, and we can get them enrolled in the apprenticeship right out of high school,” O’Kelley said.

The initiative was introduced when Chuck Little, human resources director for the Atlanta Electrical Contractors Association, reached out to O’Kelley and told him a local high school was in need of a partnership.

“I contacted the building construction teacher and offered to partner with him and his class,” O’Kelley said. “I let him know we could provide materials and tools, and also do training and hands-on labs.” In return, the teacher would allow company representatives to talk to the students about the industry and the apprenticeship program.

“We have found that [students] are more likely to listen and ask questions in this smaller setting,” he said.

Typically, the company conducts three or four small, in-person presentations for classes of 25–30 students each school year. Some are all-day events, with each class doing a hands-on lab, and some are simply talks about the industry and opportunities students would have by beginning a career right out of high school.

During meetings, O’Kelley emphasizes that students have a path to a lucrative career without the need for college. In addition, they earn money while they are in the apprenticeship program.

The program began during the 2019-2020 school year, but was interrupted by COVID-19. As such, the company hasn’t hired any students from this particular school yet, but conversations with the instructor indicate that a number of students are very interested in pursuing an electrical career once they graduate.

“My plan is to hopefully get back in front of the students in the spring, either in person or virtually, to speak specifically to the seniors as they prepare for graduation,” O’Kelley said.

San Joaquin & Calaveras Counties Electrical JATC

According to Garrett Greer, director of training for the San Joaquin & Calaveras Counties Electrical JATC, Stockton, Calif., young people today are steered away from construction trades with messages that the trades are for “dropouts, or the less educated.” However, he explained, “This couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“We, as an electrical JATC, are competing for those highly intelligent individuals who have the brains to be engineers or computer programmers, but who like to work with their hands and have the satisfaction of building something lasting. We need the caliber of applicant [who can] fill our ranks as the older members retire, not the ones who couldn’t complete high school,” Greer said.

For these reasons, the JATC has been involved with Stockton’s Construction Trades Career Fair since its inception in 2005. The fair promotes construction apprenticeship programs to high school juniors and seniors, teachers, counselors and school board members.

Each year, the fair includes a presentation on the apprenticeship model, career information for a variety of construction trades, hands-on activities for each specific trade and recommendations for course preparation while attending high school. Students can also speak with journey workers and apprentices in 15 construction trades.

The fair’s format involves an informational portion about apprenticeships in general (registered apprenticeships, guaranteed wages and benefits, on-the-job training, classroom training, mentoring and lifelong careers). The hands-on training really sparks students’ interest, Greer said.

Some 650 juniors and seniors from approximately 20 area high schools attended the most recent event.

“We have never had a problem attracting qualified applicants,” he said. “Some of them even mention that they remembered attending the career fair.”

The JATC also reaches out beyond the career fair to attract applicants.

“I speak at every event I am invited to,” Greer said. “We also send out notifications to all high schools in our area as well as community centers and other agencies.”

Shea Electric & Communications

Oshkosh, Wis.-based Shea Electric & Communications LLC launched its effort to attract students in 2012, with Dan Shea, chief operating officer, visiting local high schools and middle schools.

“In 2019, we called on five high schools and six middle schools in multiple area school districts,” he said. “We have forged close working relationships with two school districts in particular.”

Shea Electric participates in career fairs for middle school and high school levels.

“We also get one full period in the two school districts we concentrate on, to come in and explain what a day in the life of a tradesperson looks like,” he said.

At these events, Shea shares the passion he’s had during his 35 years in the trade, and he brings in apprentices to discuss their career path.

At these events, Shea and his colleagues discuss the length of apprenticeships, emphasize that they are paid and that they will “top out” to a journey worker status debt-free, all while having health insurance and participating in multiple pension plans.

“We discuss the many facets of the trade for ‘lifelong learners,’ including low-voltage systems; cameras/access/control/intrusion detection; building automation, including energy control and design; [and] BIM and its impact on preconstruction/prefab and job timelines, etc.,” he said.

Shea discusses wages last.

“I do this intentionally, because I want a person who is seeking a career and who wants to be a lifelong learner, not a person who is chasing money, because that is the kind of person who punches the clock, picks things up, and puts them down. I want the thinkers and our future industry leaders,” he said.

Eaton

recruiting
Eaton Experience Centers provide eyes-on education and training. In a socially distant year, Dan Carnovale, manager of the Eaton Power Systems Experience Center in Pittsburgh, stands in front of the microgrid system, presenting to an online audience.

For almost 20 years, Eaton, Beachwood, Ohio, has used its Eaton Experience Centers to provide eyes-on education and training experiences for students starting in middle school and all the way through their careers.

“We also provide prerecorded and live sessions with demonstrations, specific industry training, and more,” said Dan Carnovale, manager for Eaton’s Power Systems Experience Center in Pittsburgh.

The experience centers partner with community organizations, schools, community colleges and apprenticeship and workforce training programs.

“It is important that young people hear this message early, which is why we focus on late middle school through high school, so they know the options that are available,” he said.

In most cases, students participate by visiting the Eaton facilities.

“Our trips to schools are less common, because of the powerful training environment we provide,” Carnovale said. “This year in particular, however, we have been asked to join virtual sessions to discuss careers in the electrical field for students of all ages.”

Sessions at the Eaton Experience Centers include the basics of electricity, from utility power to the receptacles at home. Also included are demonstrations on specific concepts such as renewable power, motors, commercial buildings, industrial plants and healthcare settings.

“This way, students get a real sense of how electricity is used,” he said.

At the end of the sessions, students discuss the things that surprised, excited and inspired them about the industry.

“We are always amazed that every student has positive feedback to offer,” Carnovale said.

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