There are several reasons for today’s well-publicized labor shortages, according to Kevin Tighe, executive director, labor relations & workforce development, at the National Electrical Contractors Association. First, obviously, the industry is booming, and unemployment rates nationwide in general are extremely low.
“Second, the baby boomer ‘bell curve’ is moving through the industry, and they are retiring,” he said. “Third, about 20 years ago, we started to see a decline in the career training education classes in high schools.”
Finally, during the economic downturn in 2007 and 2008, many people left the industry and never returned. This has led to the “perfect storm,” Tighe said.
There are a number of initiatives underway nationwide to address this problem. One of them is Construct Your Future, launched by the Electrical Training Alliance. Formerly the NJATC, the Electrical Training Alliance was created over 70 years ago as a joint training program between NECA and the IBEW. Today, the Alliance is the largest apprenticeship and training program of its kind, having trained over 350,000 apprentices to journeyman status through local affiliate programs.
“We realized that the message has not been getting out to any of our key demographics, but especially to young people, that apprenticeships in the construction trade are viable options for them as careers,” said Marty Riesberg, director of the Electrical Training Alliance. “Young people aren’t getting much of this information in high school, college or anywhere else.”
Besides encouraging people to consider careers as electricians, the Construct Your Future initiative also highlights opportunities as boilermakers, bricklayers, carpenters, insulators, iron workers, laborers, millwrights, operating engineers, painters, plasterers, plumbers, roofers and sheet metal workers.
The site notes the employment of electrical workers is projected from grow 14 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.
“The new initiative and its accompanying site are designed to make it clear to people that there are very distinct benefits to being in apprenticeship programs,” Riesberg said.
The site also emphasizes benefits of being involved in multi-employer apprenticeship programs.
“One drawback to a single-employer program is that, if you are with just one employer, and that employer runs out of work, the apprenticeship ends,” he said.
“We are making a real push to make this the go-to site for information on construction career opportunities,” Tighe said. “Marty has done tremendous work, and we want to elevate it even more and take it to the top.”
The goal is to make apprenticeships as much a part of educational conversations as being a doctor or a lawyer. The program also has plans to reach out to military personnel through the national non-profit program, “Helmets to Hardhats,” which connects National Guard, Reserve, retired, and transitioning active duty military service members with skilled training.
“These people have had life experience,” Riesberg said. “They understand how important it is to show up for work every day and work hard. In addition, we owe them. They have been out there defending our country, and our program is a way that we can pay them back.”
How can ECs get involved in Construct Your Future?
“One of the catchphrases we like to use is ‘continuous recruiting,’” Tighe said. “This means making this site and this discussion a part of every conversation every day. When contractors make this an ongoing discussion with every person every day and encourage their employees to do the same, we can start to flip the script from being the best-kept secret to being the best-known opportunity.”