May 22, 2024

The Severe Electrician Shortage in America: Is There an End in Sight?


10 Min. Read

This article was originally published August 10, 2021, and was last updated May 22, 2024

For over a decade, rumblings of a shortage of electricians have persisted. Recent facts validate those concerns, especially in the face of electrification as homes and businesses across North America urgently need electrical upgrades and plan for the installation of newer energy transition technologies.

Back in 2016, one out of five electricians said their biggest concern for the next five years was experienced electricians retiring or leaving the industry while 70% said the industry was facing an electrician shortage, and in 2022, the shortage became even more apparent.

But what are the causes of this shortage? There are several, all dealing with supply and demand. In this article, we will explore what has created the electrician shortage and provide potential solutions to overcoming the workforce crisis we face without enough electricians to help power America and support the energy transition.

Why Are Electricians in Demand? Experienced Electricians are Retiring Quickly

In 2024, an anticipated surge in demand for electricians to build federally funded EV infrastructure across America is cause for concern, with almost 80,000 openings projected each year over the next decade.

The first cause behind the electrician shortage is experienced electricians leaving the industry. While many of these retirements are part of the normal employment cycle, some are premature departures.

The Great Recession of 2008 had a profound impact on the construction industry. As new construction projects decreased, millions were out of work and many specialty trade workers did not return to the industry even when the jobs did.

As a result of COVID-19, the construction industry lost approximately 430,000 jobs, and by mid-2023, it had recovered only 67% of them. Among the causes were the Great Resignation post-COVID-19, which caused many workers to examine their life priorities; the exodus of an entire generation as Baby Boomers looked to their retirement; and growing wages in other sectors such as transportation and warehousing.

The retirement trend will likely continue to be a drain on the workforce; Pew Research reported in 2023 that one in five American workers are 65 years of age or older. The inescapable fact is that electricians continue to leave the industry.

Why Are Electricians in Demand? Not Enough New Electricians are Entering the Industry

On the supply side, not enough younger workers are entering the building trades industry as experienced electricians are retiring in record numbers.

But there’s also a demand issue. More electricians than ever will be needed to meet the ever-increasing electrical needs of our nation as we face aging infrastructure in the era of electrification. Electricians leaving the industry wouldn’t be a problem if new apprentice electricians were rising to replace them. Unfortunately, they aren’t.

One reason for this change is that younger generations aren’t as interested in skilled labor and even tend to look down on it. Instead of attending a trade school or finding an apprenticeship, young adults are enrolling in two- or four-year colleges and universities.

Jobber, a prominent home and commercial services provider, found in a recent survey of 18-to-20-year-olds that 74% attached a stigma to the trades, and 79% reported that their parents wanted them to pursue a college degree. Only 5% reported that their parents wanted them to pursue a trade.

But there are rays of hope in the same survey. Fear of student debt looms heavily over Gen Z, and 75% percent of respondents said they wanted to pursue a trade that offered paid on-the-job training. Additionally, with the rise of AI, job security is paramount for respondents and 56% believe the trades offer job security.

There is more. Nearly two-thirds of respondents want to establish their own business, and 5% already have done so. The survey found that respondents are unaware of the entrepreneurial potential of the trades—and conveniently, they have a clear path to owning an electrical contracting business.

All of this points to Gen Z as the solution to the skilled labor shortage.

Is Demand for Electricians Increasing? Electrification and Federal Investment Are Driving It

Electrical work is a growing trade. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, electrician jobs are expected to grow 6% from 2022 to 2032. This is twice the 3% growth rate projected for all occupations and all construction trades and there are expected to be more than 810,000 new job openings for electricians by 2032

A roaring economic recovery post-COVID-19 and legislative initiatives like the Inflation Reduction Act provided an updraft for that demand, with massive investments in EV charging and a need for qualified EV charger installers. At the same time, other aspects of the drive for sustainability are adding further demand for work on solar panels, wind, battery storage, and residential electrification as the U.S. moves away from carbon-based fuels.

While housing permits and starts slowed near the end of 2023 due to higher interest rates, they were still 10% over 2019 levels. Reuters reports that while frigid weather has decreased recently, permits were up 1.6 % in January 2024, and a recent National Association of Home Builders survey found home builders’ confidence level at an 18-month high.

Solving the Problem—What Can Contractors Do?

Reach Out to the Audience

Electricians are in high demand. The value of an apprenticeship as a clear path to a high-paying, technologically oriented, and sustainability-friendly career should be increasingly obvious. But what does it take to be an electrician?

If you’re willing to put in the effort, reaching out to local youth is a fruitful option. Prepare professional marketing materials and recruit at high schools or vocational schools. Engage career counselors to teach them the benefits of an electrician’s career, and emphasize avoiding college debt.

Hold career days on your site, complete with impressive tools and talks with students by electricians who enjoy developing talent. Give them a taste of what they will learn as apprentices, emphasizing sustainability projects and new technology. Review the electrician career path.

Make recruiting the responsibility of a smart group of people you are proud to present to recruits or consider hiring a high-quality staffing agency. Note that you will need to set expectations and manage the results.

Present the electrical trade accurately as a prestigious one that has lit American streets and highways, powered skyscrapers, lit night baseball, and electrified rural areas. By investing time and effort in the steps above, you can continue that crucial legacy of progress with recruits.

Sell Technology

The Jobber survey illuminates the path to bringing more electricians into the market, with Gen Z and other young Americans the key source. Gen Z is the most technologically advanced generation. At the same time, the strong trend towards EV, solar, and battery storage is leading the electrician’s trade to be more technology-driven than ever.

Demonstrating this to younger audiences at high schools should be central to your recruiting efforts, especially when those high schools offer shop or trade courses—but even without an in-school opportunity for students to explore your industry, you can create learning opportunities and internship programs that will help them strengthen their interest in electrical work.

Invest in smart technologies such as virtual reality training to keep your electricians up-to-date on training and engaged in their education before they ever step foot into the field. Show your commitment to technology, and make the most of the electrician team you do have to ensure they remain loyal to your company and committed to keeping their training up-to-date.

If you have not done so already, commit to growing your business in electrification technologies that Gen Z and Millennials employees will identify with and want to work on. You will need to do this to prosper in today’s world, not just to attract and retain a new generation of employees, but to keep your business afloat in an ever-evolving industry of advancing technology.

Illustrate the Value of Apprenticeships

Recall from the Jobber survey that younger job seekers want paid, on-the-job training. Electrician apprentices offer just that. The average compensation for first-year apprentices is $44,340 per year plus $6000 in overtime while attending a four- to five-year training course that includes classroom and hands-on training alongside a journeyman. Training runs from the basics to advanced technology like EVs and solar.

Comparing that to an average starting salary of $56,000 for a college graduate in 2023 makes apprenticeships look less lucrative. But 54% of students finish with college debt, and the average college graduate carries the burden of $29,100 in debt. Accounting for that, an apprenticeship looks favorable and provides the paid, on-the-job training younger job seekers want.

Apprenticeship programs do have a cost that can range from $1,000 to $11,000 on the high end. Reimbursing tuition is a major recruiting tool that builds loyalty.

Apprentices become licensed after completing exams, and they have a clear career path in front of them. By putting in the required time and passing the state license exam, they can graduate to Journeyman and earn a median total pay of $84,832 per year. As licensed journeymen, they can work anywhere in the United States.

Beyond journeyman, an electrician can advance with experience and licensing to become a master electrician, foreman, and eventually even an electrical contractor, with a national average income of $96,580 depending on the state. Apprenticeship and the electrical trade offer a clear path to the entrepreneurship so valued by younger candidates.

The last item on many young applicants’ wish lists is job security. With the rising demand for electricians, job security is a standout reason to enter the trade. The federal requirement for a prevailing wage and set percentage of electrician apprentices on national highway EV charger projects are indications of continuing demand.

Create an Appealing Workplace

To attract the next generation of electricians, it’s vital to establish the welcoming, collaborative culture young people want. You may have to make some changes, but they will be worth it as you build your business for the future of electrification and the electrical worker industry.

Financial Help

Commit to training and subsidize apprenticeship programs for solid performers. Sell the benefit of the training, and be clear about the valuable career path it offers.

The Biden Administration recently announced $200 million to expand registered apprenticeships, in addition to the previous “Apprenticeship Building America” program’s $113 million in grant funding. Beyond the federal level, there are also state and local programs to assist with tradeschool and apprenticeship education programs.

Partnering with other industry leaders can also expand your available resources and training opportunities.

Qmerit’s Contribution

We know that electricians are in demand and it’s clear that this demand will only continue to grow, but even as it stands today, more electricians are needed.

Recognizing the need for qualified electricians trained in EV charger installation, solar panel integration, and other electrification technology services, Qmerit is helping to bridge that gap by supporting local electricians with the training and resources they need to become electrification leaders in their community.

We’ve built the largest and most trusted network of certified electricians and electrification experts in the U.S. and Canada because we’re invested in creating an electric future. Making electrification easy begins with having a knowledgeable workforce and the Qmerit Resource Center (QRC) helps us to seamlessly train electricians on the latest technology and installation requirements.

The QRC provides you and your electricians access to training, tutorials, technical guides, the newest best practices, and updates on the latest emerging electrification trends and technologies, and is only one of the many resources available to members of Qmerit’s national network of certified electrical contractors.

About Qmerit

With rising demand and a growing market for experienced EV charger installers, it’s crucial for electricians to prepare for the energy transition by becoming skilled in EV charger installation. Qmerit can help.

As the largest network of certified EV charger installers in North America, Qmerit is North America’s electrification leader and is recommended by automakers, EV charger manufacturers, utilities, businesses, and homeowners alike.

Our network of certified electricians has installed more EV chargers and other electrification technologies in the last decade than anyone else in the industry—more than 450,000 EV charging station installations, 37,000 battery storage installations, 81,000 solar panel system integrations, and 86,000 electric panel upgrades in homes and businesses across the U.S. and Canada! We have the knowledge and experience to help electrical contractors grow their electrification business.

By joining our unique Certified Solutions Partner program, you can access comprehensive training on installing and servicing energy transition technologies, including access to the prestigious Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP) and direct training and installation opportunities with our leading auto manufacturer and EVSE partners.

But we don’t just help you train your existing electricians—Qmerit is here to help you build your business every step of the way. Partner with Qmerit today to learn more about recruiting new electricians for your electrical contracting company and building your business for tomorrow!

Author: Eric Feinberg

Eric Feinberg

Qmerit - Chief Workforce Officer