Ongoing Worker Shortage Woes

March 14, 2023
How to make sense of the ever-changing construction market employment numbers

When it comes to worker shortage woes, everyone in the electrical industry feels the pain, at least to some degree — whether you’re a small mom-and-pop shop, a mid-size electrical contracting firm, or a multi-million-dollar consulting engineering firm. The problem is obviously not a new one. As long as I’ve been covering the construction market for the past 25-plus years as a journalist, employers have struggled to recruit and retain electrical professionals from entry level to senior management. When you actually dig into the numbers, it can really make your head spin. Take the last few days as an example. I recently noticed two press releases that crossed my desk two days apart from the same organization (Associated Builders and Contractors) that expressed much different outlooks.

On March 8, the headline read, “Construction Job Openings Plummet by a Shocking 240,000 in January.” That stat definitely caught the attention of ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “While the total number of job openings economy-wide stood at a lofty 10.8 million at the end of January, meaning that there are still nearly two job openings for every unemployed American, the number of construction job openings plummeted from 488,000 in December to 248,000 just one month later, according to the JOLTS (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey) report,” he said in the press release. “In other words, almost one-half of all construction job openings disappeared in a single month.” Then, on March 10, “Construction Adds 24,000 Jobs in February” read the next headline from ABC. Given the February jobs report data, Basu suggested this data point was likely an aberration. “Both residential and nonresidential contractors added jobs in February, which is consistent with ABC’s Construction Confidence Index, indicating that many contractors continue to seek additional staffing,” he said, noting that while industry momentum persists, the jobs report suggests the Federal Reserve still has considerably more work to do to slow the economy. “Construction industry momentum may falter at some point in the future as project financing becomes increasingly expensive. That said, some contractors will continue to have significant workflow even in the instance of an economy-wide recession.”

In this issue, we have several articles that address different aspects of the skilled worker shortage. First, the article by Garrett Wilson, president of Fieldbin, sheds light on different outreach strategies and technological advances that are helping electrical contracting companies and engineering firms reach the next generation of electrical workers. While companies can certainly try to entice workers out of retirement (as one approach), he maintains the bigger issue confronting the industry is how can the profession get younger — and do so as fast as possible to meet current market demand and sustain it into the future.

Harold De Loach, a master electrician and electrical trainer/instructor for more than 30 years, has been on a mission to combat the ongoing worker shortage for years now — educating the younger generation on the benefits of entering and working in the electrical trade as well as motivating them to persevere and succeed in the real world. The founder of The Academy of Industrial Arts in Philadelphia and longtime contributor to EC&M magazine through his popular column in our monthly eTrain newsletter, De Loach is making a difference in the lives of electrical apprentices. In his article, “Tips for Passing an Electrical License Exam,” De Loach offers best practices that have consistently produced positive results with his students.

In today’s market, any job opening is tough to fill. With an obvious shortage of electrical professionals for the foreseeable future, read "People Skills" to find out why some positions prove to be tougher than others to staff. In this piece, Freelance Writer Tim Kridel puts all of the employment data into perspective, identifies top challenges faced by electrical contracting companies and design firms alike, and examines innovative ways to reach passive candidates and boost recruiting efforts.

These articles gave me a much greater perspective on the underlying factors that affect the ability of electrical firms to successfully staff their work forces. Unlike years ago — when I entered the job market in the mid-1990s, for example — most young people seeking employment were primarily motivated by compensation, career advancement opportunities, or simply the ability to secure and keep a job. Today — for better and for worse — the scales have shifted. And many of today’s next generation of workers (electrical and otherwise) value a whole new set of nontraditional incentives that might persuade them to choose one employer over another. The companies that figure out how to appeal to them first will inevitably gain a serious competitive advantage.

About the Author

Ellen Parson | Editor-in-Chief - EC&M

Ellen Parson is the Editor-in-Chief for EC&M. She has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She's been a business-to-business writer and editor for more than 25 years, most of which have been covering the construction and electrical industries. Contact her at [email protected].

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