> FOCUS BY CLAIRE SWEDBERG
SKILLED LABOR SHORTAGES in construction are widespread and global.
The challenge is in attracting the correct people to the industry while keeping
skilled workers on hand as long as possible.
The national unemployment rate is at the lowest level since
2008, and the economy has trended upward ever since the
recession. Construction starts are up, and, across the United
States, there is a demand to build. However, without people to
do the work, growth may be stunted.
According to the National Electrical Contractors Association, its members across the country need 15,000 additional
workers each year. Half of these workers will replace retiring
employees, and half will fill new jobs.
“We’re not meeting that need,” said Kevin Tighe, NECA
Current labor resources
executive director of labor relations and workforce develop-
ment. “We are growing our apprenticeship programs, and
canvassing the country with our NLMCC-supported job fairs.
We are using temp agencies and talent finders, and exploring
geofencing and geomessaging processes to locate and identify
potential candidates. But that will still not fill the ever-growing
manpower shortage and skills gap.”
Any workforce development plan for electricians is, by
necessity, multipronged. It must focus on finding creative ways
to maintain the existing workforce, reaching out to underrep-
resented populations—especially women and minorities—and
attracting young people to apprenticeship programs.
While recruiting provides future benefits, ECs need solu-
tions now. One way to address the workforce shortfall in the
immediate term is to keep staff on the payroll past their planned
retirement age. Many electricians who are due to retire don’t
necessarily want to.
That’s where some flexibility is a good idea. Joey Shorter,
NECA director of research, said ECs should make an effort to
help electricians remain in their jobs when possible. This may
mean allowing them to work fewer days per week, shorter days,
or closer to the office—e.g., working in the prefab shop instead
of on the job site.
In the long term, the industry must focus on recruitment,
particularly of women. The labor coming out of apprenticeship
programs is mostly male. Forty-eight percent of the available
workforce is female, while just 2–3 percent of women are
employed in the trades. That disparity suggests a large resource
of workers could be accessed quickly if education and recruitment efforts focus on women and minorities.
A new image for electrical work
In general, the public has some misconceptions about electrical construction careers, including where the industry is going.
A mindset of ushering young people toward university-level
careers is cutting into the construction workforce. For ECs,
there is some irony in this trend, because electrical installation is becoming more complex and requires more skill sets
than it did in the past.