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 electrician shortage continue to be realized.
Despite COVID-19-related layoffs in early 2020, finding skilled workers remains a challenge for many industries. On December 31, 2020, there were 195,000 unfilled positions across the construction industry as a whole, including electrician positions.
Of course, news of an electrician shortage is nothing new. Electrical Contractor magazine wrote about the impending shortage in 2003, warning that it was “too late to avoid it.”
But what’s behind the electrician shortage, and what’s changed? Here’s an overview of the current state of the electrician shortage and what you can expect the future to look like.
Why is there a shortage of electricians?
As with many issues, the electrician shortage is the result of a mismatch between supply and demand.
On the supply side, not enough younger electricians are entering the industry as experienced electricians are retiring.
But there’s also a demand issue. More electricians will be needed to meet the ever-increasing electricity needs of our nation.
From a big-picture perspective, there are three main causes behind the electrician shortage.
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 electricians were rising up to replace them. Unfortunately, they aren’t.
One probable 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
But striking an equilibrium between retirements and new hires isn’t the answer, either. We need more new electricians than the number that are leaving.
Electrical work is a growing trade. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, electrician jobs are expected to grow by 8.4% from 2019 to 2029. This is more than double the 3.7% growth rate projected for all occupations.
The increase in demand is driven by an increase in 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 1.4%.
People are using more electricity than before, and more electricians are needed to install and maintain these electrical systems.
Electricians by Industry
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.
Electrician employment in the utility industry, on the other hand, is expected shrink by 4.3%.
With these numbers, it’s important to note that the difference between current and projected electrician employment are not representative of a shortage.
In making projections, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics always assumes that the supply of electricians will meet the demand. The above numbers estimate the future demand for electricians among various industries. They don’t make predictions about the supply side of the equation.
So, the fact that the construction industry is projected to add close to 60,600 electricians by 2029 doesn’t mean we’ll have a shortage of exactly 60,600 electricians. Rather, it means we’ll need 60,600 more electricians to fill available jobs in 2029 than we do to fill available jobs today.
But based on what we know about the current supply of electricians, we can reasonably conclude that the electrician shortage will only get worse over the next 10 years.
If we don’t have enough electricians to meet the current demand, we certainly won’t have enough when demand rises — unless something changes.
How to cope with the electrician shortage
Clearly, the electrician shortage isn’t going anywhere. Here are a few things you can do to cope with the repercussions:
- Recruit at high schools and career classes
- Work with trade or vocational schools to offer scholarships and apprenticeships
- Hire a skilled labor staffing agency to help you find electricians
- Improve productivity with software and planning
- Outsource tasks that take up your electricians’ time, such as material handling
While skilled labor shortages are an enormous problem, taking action in these ways can help you mitigate their impact on your business.