When homeowners find an issue with their house, their knee-jerk, first reaction is bound to be: “I don’t have to call anyone. I can probably fix that myself!”
Those are the kind of decisions that land people on America’s Funniest Home Videos and end up as really funny stories to tell in the break room.
But there is one field of problems that even the most prideful homeowners give a wide berth: electrical issues. For that, you call an electrician. It’s a no brainer. A piece of cake. So easy a caveman could do it.
Except what happens when the electrician doesn’t pick up?
Labor Shortage in the Electrical Industry
Many electricians are finding themselves swamped these days. Everyone and their brother is out looking for a skilled electrician and it almost seems like there aren’t enough to go around.
A quick Google search of “electrician shortage” gives you articles about large scale projects in San Francisco getting delayed due to lack of skilled labor, and whole states like Colorado, Florida, and Kentucky sitting in a skilled labor scarcity.
The global staffing firm Manpower Group conducted a talent shortage survey for 2016-2017 and found that skilled trades (like electricians, carpenters, and welders) have been number one in vacancies since 2010. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the electric field is projected to see nearly 60,000 new jobs in 2026, a growth of 9 percent (and particularly desperate states like Kentucky can expect growth as high as 26 percent).
How To Become An Electrician
The gap between retiring master electricians (people with at least eight years experience and a specific license) and journeymen who are skilled enough to take their place has caused a spike in those interested in learning the trade.
All you need begin is a high school diploma. A lot of the knowledge and training necessary for an electrician career comes from an apprenticeship, though you may find that some electricians expect a basic familiarity with electrical work before they agree to take you on. You can find local apprenticeships through the United States Department of Labor or by looking at online job boards. Electrical apprenticeship opportunities also become available through organizations like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, National Electrical Contractors Association, or Independent Electrical Contractors. But to get a leg up and make yourself a more attractive would-be apprentice, you can get pre-apprenticeship training at a trade school or vocational college.
The rising interest in electrical training and education has pushed some institutions, like the Madisonville Community College in Kentucky to bring back their electrician program. Because their need is so high, education programs like this one have to get creative. The Madisonville two-year program is now organized so that completing it counts for three of the eight years it takes to become a master electrician. If done concurrently with an apprenticeship, the eight year requirement can be cut down to five.
Continuing Education for Electricians
While it is a great career path, new potential electricians aren’t experienced enough right out of the gate to help with the current skilled labor shortage. This makes continuing education for current electricians all the more important. Last year we wrote an article on the best books for electricians to read, highlighting practical staples and even free online resources. Those are great for keeping up to date, but there are more ways to take your continuing education seriously.
Because continuing education is required annually for license renewal, it’s important to stay on top of it. For example, Ohio requires ten hours of continuing education courses a year. Five of those hours have to be National Electrical Code classes and the other five hours can be any other course approved by the state. But if you want to beat out the competition and start to fill the gaps in the industry, it’s a smart move to go above and beyond those required hours.
Every state has different standards and approves different courses, but groups like the National Electrical Contractors Association and Independent Electrical Contractors offer courses designed to advance and grow your knowledge. They have courses that range from code updates to classes on how to estimate for specific jobs. Generally, these classes mean to expand your knowledge base and diversify the jobs you can take.
The best part about courses like these is that they don’t put you out of work. There’s no need to put everything on hold for six months while you go obtain a certification or degree. Courses like these are logged in accumulated hours, allowing you to maintain a healthy workload while slowly gaining more education, skills, and experience.
Gaining new skills allows you to diversify your portfolio. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top 10 percent of electricians earn more than $90,420. Though it varies by area, these are the people whose training and experience allows them to stand above the competition.
Courses like these could also help prepare you to take the master electrician exam. This exam tests your skills, knowledge, abilities, and experiences in the “installation, design, repair, alteration, and construction of electrical systems, related equipment and apparatus, and all applicable codes and regulations.” The test also tests a your ability to supervise other electricians doing the same work. In some states, like Virginia, the exam becomes available after one year of full-time work as a journeyman electrician. Texas requires two exams. And in Michigan there are even two separate tests (one to become a master electrician and one to oversee other electricians). It’s best to keep on top your state’s requirements, and use some of the continuing education resources to prepare for the exam!
Continuing education and training is important in any job. It keeps industries innovating and moving forward. And in a constantly-evolving field service industry like electrical work, it keeps workers competitive. But with more positions opening up as master electricians retire, journeyman electricians and those in apprenticeship programs should better themselves to fill that labor gap and improve their earning potential.
Taking the initiative and logging extra training hours sets you apart from your direct competition. It opens you up to taking different and higher paying jobs. And equally important, it helps pave the way for new apprentices to follow in your footsteps.