It has been estimated that by the year 2014, the construction industry will face a deficit of more than 1.5 million craft professionals, and 20% of the construction workforce will retire in the next two to four years.1
Who, then, are our future electricians, and where are they coming from? Who will train them, and what kind of training will they receive? Will there be a shortage of electricians and apprentices in the workplace? These are all questions I have been asked and have asked myself.
As an electrical apprenticeship instructor for twelve years, I have had these very discussions with the owners of various electrical contracting firms who send their employees for training. When I meet many of these employees/future electricians for the first time my first question is usually, “Why are you here?” Quite often the answer is tied to a desire for a raise or a requirement of employment. Not very many times do the students tell me they are there for professional development, or because they believe the course will teach them something worthwhile. Upon receiving these answers, and following a brief review of what is expected of them in class, I will advise them, “Follow these simple Do’s and Don’ts, and you will have every opportunity to learn.”
This year I was prepared before the start of classes that I would have an overly zealous class who wanted to spend very little time learning and a lot of time “playing.” Not the whole class, just a portion, which means that the remaining of the class would be left suffering for the actions of a few.
Which way to handle this unique issue? I decided to explain the benefits of skilled craft workers, and what that can mean in the long term for them and their families. When I explained to them the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states, “Opportunities to own your own firm are better in construction than any other industry,” and that “1.9 million individuals in the construction industry were self-employed in 2006,” I could have dropped a pin on the floor, and heard it. Regardless of the reason for attending the class they all had something in common, they wanted to succeed. With 240,000 trained jobs going unfilled each year, skilled workers have the advantage.
As an electrical inspector I have the added insight of working with skilled and unskilled workers every day in the field. The construction industry remains one of the nation’s largest industries. In the year 2006, there were 7.7 million Americans in construction and the average craft professional was 47 years old. The greater majority of the workers I deal with are unskilled, i.e., no formal course of study or training, and as such depend on me and my colleagues to instruct them. Recently many local authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) in my local area have begun seeking continuing education requirements for electrical contractors seeking to renew their licenses. This is one of the few disciplines where these requirements exist, other than for inspectors. The level of understanding of the code and code requirements has increased with these new requirements, typically ten hours every two years.
Recruiting our trade’s future workers is very important to the nation, as the numbers would suggest, and to us as users of their services. Many public schools have construction programs with classes in such trades as carpentry, masonry, HVAC, and electrical. When I became an inspector, I decided then I wanted to contribute to the training of our future workers, which is why I began teaching apprenticeship classes; however, I also volunteer to teach at the local high school as a guest instructor. If someone were to ask you if you would have the time to be a guest instructor for a class what would your answer be?
I have been an inspector for over sixteen years, and one thing I have learned in that time is — I never stop learning! Every once in a while someone states, “I have a stupid question for you.” I believe the only stupid question is the one we never ask; how would we learn without asking questions?
By the way, my apprenticeship class has been going just fine, we are learning!
12010 FMI Report, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handook and Career Guide to Industries.