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August 10, 2021

The Severe Electrician Shortage in America of 2021: Is there an end in sight?

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7 MIN. READ

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. 70% said the industry was facing an electrician shortage.

Five years later, concerns about the shortage of certified electricians continues to be realized.

Despite COVID-19-related layoffs in early 2020, finding skilled workers remains a challenge for many industries. The current estimate of open electrician job postings across the US is 81,252.

But what’s behind the shortage, and what’s changed?

Here’s an overview of the current state and what you can expect the future to look like.

3 main causes of the electrician shortage

As with many issues, this is the result of a mismatch between supply and demand.

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 will be needed to meet the ever-increasing electricity needs of our nation.

1. Experienced electricians are retiring quickly

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

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

Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated retirement timelines across all industries. Pew Research reported that more Baby Boomers retired in 2020 than in previous years.

This means the pandemic may have pushed some electricians to retire sooner. While it’s too early to tell how COVID-19 impacted the long-term outlook for electrician jobs, the short-term impact isn’t promising.

2. Not enough new electricians are entering the industry

Electricians leaving the industry wouldn’t be a problem if new apprentice electricians were rising to replace them. Unfortunately, they aren’t. The average age of a journeymen electrician is 44.

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

Millennials are far more likely to attend college than previous generations — 39% of Millennials hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 29% of Gen Xers. Members of Gen Z, the generation behind Millennials, are even more likely to enroll in college.

This shift is one reason why high school recruitment is a key tactic for addressing the electrician shortage. When high school students learn what it’s like to be an electrician, they can get excited about the field and consider pursuing it as a career.

3. Demand for electricians is increasing

Electrical work is a growing trade. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, electrician jobs are expected to grow by 11.4% from 2019 to 2029. This is more than triple the 3.7% growth rate projected for all occupations.

Another factor to prove this point is the rise of residential electrical permits, currently up 31.6% from pre-pandemic times, with an average permit approval taking up to 30 days.

This is not taking into account the increase in residential and light commercial EV charging, battery storage and solar integration proliferation.

The increase in demand is proportional to the growth of electronic devices and building components that rely on electricity. From 2021 to 2022 alone, total electricity consumption in the U.S. is expected to grow by 12.4%.

People are using more electricity than before, and more electricians are needed to install and maintain these electrical systems.

A survey of electrical service contractors in May 2021 showed that the backlog associated with residential service requests on average is 4 weeks. A leading indicator pointing to the gap in workforce numbers needed to meet demand.

Electricians by Industry Segment

Not all industries are experiencing the electrician shortage in the same way. While overall demand for electricians is on the rise, some industries are growing more than others.

The construction industry employs the most electricians at about 537,700 people. That number is expected to grow by 11.3% over the next eight years. When you include the residential demand influx at the residential and light commercial sectors (EV Chargers, Battery Storage, and Solar) the demand will nearly double to nearly 21%.

Ways we can address the electrician deficit

Clearly, the electrician shortage isn’t going anywhere. Here are a few things you can do to cope with the repercussions:

  1. Recruit at high schools and career classes
  2. Build internal OJT programs
  3. Work with trade or vocational schools to offer scholarships and apprenticeships
  4. Hire a skilled labor staffing agency to help you find electricians
  5. Improve productivity with software and planning
  6. Outsource tasks that take up your electricians’ time, such as material handling

How the industry can address the electrician deficit

Overall, unless the industry embraces significant change and accelerates the training aspect and certification process, the deficit will only be exacerbated.  Here are some recommendations:

  1. Change the apprentice to journeymen timeline from four years to two
  2. Add new certification levels for electricians to include technician levels for residential service
  3. Condense electrical training curriculums from two years to one
  4. Fund the development electrical training programs in high schools as electives
  5. Allow military skilled certifications/MOS experience to count towards apprentice requirements.
  6. Provide workforce rebates to contractors for training new electricians

While skilled labor shortages are an enormous problem, taking action in these ways can help mitigate the overall impact on our industry and businesses.

What Qmerit is doing to help

Since January, Qmerit has been working hard to aid in resolving this electrician shortage and through its Workforce Development team has successfully placed 90 new electricians. Qmerit offers assistance in job positings for electrical companies to help attract and retain new electricians and apprentices. Once brought on by a Qmerit network contractor, they can tap into Qmerit’s resource pool to help train these hires on electrification technologies.

To learn more about this program or join the Qmerit Network visit Qmerit.com.

Sources:  BLS, BSE, ABC, BSE, Construction Monitor

Eric A. Feinberg Qmerit- Chief Workforce Officer