“There’s a long-standing desire for parents to send their
children to [a four-year] college,” said Palmer Hickman,
director, code and safety curriculum and training, Electrical
The primary message young people hear when talking to
parents, guidance counselors and peers is that four-year colleges are the only route to a successful career.
Other countries face similar challenges but have different
solutions. Germany and Australia have programs to get young
people on career paths toward electrical or other construction.
They expose children to electrical construction coursework
and offer apprenticeships at an early age. Young people need
to learn that electrical work is a viable career and not just a job.
Classroom study in U.S. apprenticeship training programs
has also changed to attract the latest generation of students.
Programs are geared more toward hands-on training as well
as classroom research. In addition, apprenticeship pays while
you learn. The average new apprentice today will earn about
$150,000 over five years, rather than accruing thousands of dollars in debt from traditional college programs.
Shorter said electrical work shouldn’t be referred to as
“vocational.” Many who complete apprenticeships go into electrical engineering, specialize in the kind of automation systems
and wireless communication that is gaining ground, or start
their own business. While young people planning their careers
have been told about jobs that will be taken over by automation,
electrical work is not likely to be one of them, because electrical system construction and installations are too complex to be
effectively done by a machine.
Post-secondary training options also include electrical training and apprenticeships, and more students need to hear that
message. It may be up to contractors to communicate it.
Getting out there
Some contractors and organizations find workers on social networks, and job fairs offer contractors the opportunity to meet
prospective employees in person.
Students and job hunters can be notified about job fairs on
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. According to Melody Storm,
RCI Recruitment Solutions director of strategic accounts, job
fairs can accomplish better and more effective public relations
than other efforts. She has helped organize job fairs for the
electrical industry and, in some cases, boosted attendance by
two or three times using targeted online marketing.
The job fairs themselves are the best opportunity for
contractors to talk to recruits, whether they are already jour-
neymen or students who have an apprenticeship ahead of them.
Time spent at these functions pays off sometimes immediately
when people can be signed up for jobs or training programs.
Savvy contractors post often on Facebook, Instagram or
Snapchat, Storm said. If they have an interesting project, or if
hiring is underway, they regularly post videos and pictures of
“There are lots of really cool projects on Electric TV.net,
informative videos on YouTube, and great success stories
that can be linked to their social media platforms, creating a
24-hour recruiting opportunity that is second to none,” Tighe
said. “Continuous recruiting is talking about it all the time, and
helping others talk about it all the time.”
Job fairs should include ECs that are prepared to talk to
young people who have no idea what they want to do.
“If we need them, we have to act like we need them,” Shorter
said. “It’s key for contractors to be at these job fairs.”
In addition, traditional means of reaching out to potential
workers in newspaper and radio shouldn’t be neglected.
“If there’s a promise of jobs that will impact the local
economy, [job advertisers, such as contractors] will often get
advertising without costs,” Storm said.
Terry Coleman, director, VDV curriculum and training,
Electrical Training ALLIANCE, pointed to 58 different career
paths that are open to trainees in the electrical trade, from company owners to supervisors or engineers.
“There’s still an old-school value that vo-tech is where the
dummies went,” Hickman said.
That has proven to be far from reality. In fact, it’s the job of
ECs, the Electrical Training ALLIANCE and other associations
to help students understand what is going to be expected of
them work-wise. When students see electrical codes or commercial building blueprints, they get a sense of the education
and experience they need to acquire. They need to know the
rewards of the work as well.
Ultimately, it’s about taking pride in something you build,
Coleman said, and contractors are ideally positioned to communicate this message.
“An electrician goes to a dirt field; they unroll a blueprint
on the hood of the truck,” he said. “When you leave, there’s a
school standing in that dirt field.”
It’s difficult to achieve an accomplishment that tangible in
most jobs, he said.
Recruiting has to be a local effort. National groups can’t get
out to every potential electrician, so each contractor needs to
play a part in local recruitment.
Hickman acknowledged that contractors are busy, and
recruiting young people takes years to yield results; however,
the work shortage needs to be addressed now.
S WEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington.
She can be reached at email@example.com. I S T
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