Trades Shortage Sparks Demand for Electricians The Buzz


If the surge in demand for electricians doesn't spark your interest, maybe a paid apprenticeship and the challenge of exciting new career options will. Electricians are predicting plenty of opportunities in their field.

Electricians install, repair and maintain electrical systems that power such things as lights, heating and air conditioning in homes, businesses and factories. Working indoors and outdoors, electricians must stick to blueprints, and building and safety codes. They may work for construction companies, for electricians or other tradespeople, or for themselves.

It's not unusual for experienced electricians to earn six figures. They often have attractive health and retirement benefit plans.

Roch Quesnel is an electrician. He says the financial reward of the job can be a great incentive. "There's good money in this field. Everybody today wants the big house and the big car, but you've got to be willing to work hard to get those things. The more you put into the work, the more you get out of it."

Surge in Demand

Chad Cosby is an instructor for electricians. He predicts that the demand for electricians will grow.

"The need is just skyrocketing," he says. "The number of students they want to put through school is supposed to double in the next couple of years. And as far as the need out in the workforce, they can't get them through fast enough. There's going to be work. They're expecting a shortage in the workforce for the next 20 years."

Jim Spellane agrees. He's a media director with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He says the predicted demand for electricians is very encouraging for anyone considering a career in this field.

The Canadian Electricity Association predicts that in the next decade, more than 26 percent of electricians will be retiring. And because those baby boomers are embracing high-tech gadgets and gizmos, their homes and workplaces are being adapted to accommodate new technology -- and that means more work for electricians.

Add that surge in demand to the fact that there's been a steady decline in the number of people being trained as electricians since the 1970s, and the result is a highly charged future -- one that's anything but static.

Light Bulb Moment

The bright future for electricians hasn't escaped the notice of women.

"I don't have any hard numbers, but anecdotally and from evidence we're getting, many, many more women than ever before are now into this trade," says Spellane.

"It's a good field for anybody, but many women find it a compatible field. There's not as much of the physical [strength demands] as there are in some other trades."

"The majority is still male," says Cosby. "Fifteen years ago, you didn't really see many females coming through the apprenticeship, but now there's a few almost every term. There's definitely more [women] coming into the trade."

"I think the potential is there for the future employment picture to be really great. The residential boom in the United States is growing," says Spellane.

The electronics and telecommunications fields add even more potential to electricians' work.

"Technology is changing the trade. Every year it gets different. There are more options now than there have ever been in this field," says Spellane.

That isn't to say the more traditional aspects of the jobs have been zapped into extinction. "The outside work hasn't changed a lot. The tools are getting more refined and safer, but there's still the need for people to get up on those power lines and do the work on the poles," says Spellane.

Apprenticeships Help Power the Dream

Electricians need a minimum of a high school diploma. An apprenticeship program or a mix of college or university courses and work experience can help would-be electricians obtain their trade certification.

Paid apprenticeships, explains Spellane, "are excellent for any young person who can make the grade. They're not for everybody, but if you have the basic talent and you want to apply yourself, it's a good trade."

"Because of the need now, governments are implementing signing programs and some companies want to pay for their employees to go to school in order to hang onto them," says Cosby.

Hot-Wired for the Job

There's no single set of mental or physical blueprints for the ideal electrician, says Spellane. But there are some key characteristics that can spell the difference between a well-powered career and one that's short-circuited at the flick of a switch.

"Math skills are important. We're talking about people who are academically capable, people that are willing to work hard and willing to apply themselves," says Spellane.

"It's also important for them to realize that when they go out on the job, they're not only representing themselves, they're also representing the union and their employers. So customer skills are becoming more and more important, as is taking pride in your work," says Spellane.

Quesnel echoes Spellane's advice to would-be electricians to amp up their public relations skills. He also advises students to sharpen their problem-solving skills.

"You've got to have an imagination and be creative and open-minded -- especially for the trouble-shooting part of the job. You've got to be able to step back and look at the big picture. If there's a problem, you've got to look at the entire machine, not just the problem part."

Links

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
Home page for one of the biggest trade unions

National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee
This committee works with both the union and the contractors to provide training

National Electrical Contractors Association
An association site with general info