Multifaceted Problem Demands Multipronged Solutions

NECA has been developing and participating in work force recruiting, training and retention efforts for more than 60 years to meet demands for skilled electrical workers. In addition, ours was one of the first organizations to recognize and respond to the fact that our industry is also threatened by shortages in the managerial ranks. Now, a growing chorus is singing the same tune.

For nearly two decades, the Construction Financial Management Association has conducted an annual survey asking contractors what they foresee as their greatest challenge. “Shortage of trained field labor,” which is among the most frequently cited responses since 2002, rose to the top of the list in 2006. “Shortage of trained project managers,” a response that did not show up in survey findings prior to 2005, is now second.

This column has focused on many of NECA’s efforts to build a force of capable project managers, estimators, superintendents and other managerial staff. These activities go considerably beyond the operation of our highly successful Management Education Institute, which currently offers 62 different courses to address the needs of electrical contracting managers beginning with their early roles as supervisors and continuing through their tenure as decision-making executives. I recently discussed the establishment of more NECA Student Chapters at colleges and universities to encourage young people to consider careers in electrical construction, but our association’s work goes way beyond that, too.

There is also a shortage of faculty with the background and resources to prepare students in undergraduate construction programs for management roles. That is why, for several years now, our association and its independent research affiliate have been reaching out to the academic community, including the American Council for Construction Education and actually leading curriculum development.

Now, we’re trying something new. In conjunction with the Mechanical Contracting Education and Research Foundation, ELECTRI International is co-sponsoring a Mechanical-Electrical Construction Faculty Boot Camp this spring. It’s a “train-the-trainer” deal. The idea is to provide a short, intensive course to make construction management professors more proficient in delivering practical instruction matched to real-world needs. This is an exciting development, and I’m looking forward to providing an update soon.

However, I don’t want to draw attention away from the shortage of productive labor, especially now that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has provided an indication of how serious that shortage may become. Projections show that, by 2014, the nation’s need for electrical workers will rise to more than 734,000—a figure 78,000 beyond the number currently employed.

At about the same time BLS was crunching the numbers, some counterbalancing news came out. Reporting on findings by, one of the world’s largest job-search and employee recruitment sites, CNN placed the electrician on the list of the top ten blue collar jobs based on current salary medians and expected growth by 2014.

Accordingly, NECA and the IBEW are spreading the good news that young people who pursue careers in our industry can look forward to a wide-open employment market, good pay, ample opportunities for advancement and freedom from fears that their jobs will be exported overseas. We’re telling them—and their parents, teachers and counselors—about it through a variety of means, including an informative Web where they can browse through descriptions of nearly 60 different types of jobs available as well as watch video testimonials from students already pursuing careers in our opportunity-laden industry. (

Right now, nearly 40,000 apprentices enrolled in 290 NECA-IBEW electrical training programs around the country are earning while they learn. We aim to increase these numbers by committing in excess of $100 million annually to develop the electrical work force of the future. Stay tuned. 



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