Back in 2003, Electrical Contractor magazine wrote about an impending electrician shortage, warning that it was “too late to avoid it.”
Now, almost 20 years later, it’s clear they were right. Employers have struggled to fill electrician positions for years — long before national labor shortages made headlines this past year.
But what’s causing the electrician shortage, and what’s changed with the COVID-19 pandemic? As we enter 2022, here’s an overview of the current state of the electrician shortage and what the future may hold.
Why Is There a Shortage of Electricians?
Like many economic 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. On the demand side, 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 faster than ever
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 COVID-19 pandemic accelerated retirement timelines for Baby Boomers across all industries. Pew Research reported that the percent of retired people over age 55 increased in both 2020 and 2021.
On the bright side, the trend of early retirement may not last. In all age groups over age 55, the BLS projects that more people will be working in 2030 than in 2020.
However, this doesn’t completely solve the problem. All Baby Boomers will be age 65 or older by 2030. Since Baby Boomers represent such a large portion of the population, their absence from the workforce will be felt more deeply than previous generations.
2. Not enough new electricians are entering the industry
Electricians leaving the industry wouldn’t be an issue if new electricians were rising up to replace them. Unfortunately, they aren’t.
One potential reason for this change is that younger generations aren’t as interested in skilled labor. Only 16.7% of high school and college students say they want to work in construction — compared to 76.5% who want to work in technology.
Instead of attending a trade school or finding an apprenticeship, young adults are enrolling in two- or four-year colleges and universities. Members of Gen Z, the generation behind Millennials that’s now entering the workforce, are more likely to enroll in college than any previous generation.
Gen Z workers also value flexible hours and remote work, and those accommodations aren’t always possible on tight job site schedules.
The pandemic had an interesting effect on students’ career ambitions, however. In a survey published in February 2021, 25 percent of Gen Z teenagers said they were more likely to attend a career and technical education school due to their experience with COVID-19.
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 field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, electrician jobs are expected to grow by 9.1% from 2020 to 2030. This is higher than the 7.7% growth rate projected for all occupations.
The increase in demand is largely driven by an increase in devices, buildings and vehicles 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 516,600. That number is expected to grow by 9.9% between 2020 and 2030. Electrician employment in the utility industry, on the other hand, is expected shrink by 4.1%.
With these numbers, it’s important to note that the differences 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.
The Hidden Impact of COVID-19
Except for utilities and a few smaller industries, we’ll see more electrician jobs added over the next 10 years. However, the complex nature of the COVID-19 pandemic means the numbers above don’t tell the whole story about the electrician shortage.
1. Growth rates based on 2020 are inflated
The most recent BLS projections were released in September 2021 and are based on the year 2020. This makes data interpretation tricky. As we all know, 2020 wasn’t a typical year by any measure.
Nationwide employment plummeted in March and April 2020. While jobs rebounded faster than expected, they hadn’t fully recovered by the end of 2020. Nearly 10,000 less electricians were working at the end of 2020 compared to the previous year.
This means that a large portion of the expected growth over the next 10 years will be devoted to replacing the jobs we lost during the pandemic. In fact, when you exclude estimated increases due to pandemic recovery, the projected growth rate for all occupations drops from 7.7% to 1.7%.
2. The pandemic impacted demand for electricians
In 2020, the 10-year growth rate for electrician jobs increased from 8.4% to 9.1%. The future seems crystal clear: Demand for electricians is only going up.
No one can deny that the field is growing, but when we look at pre-pandemic data, the picture gets fuzzier. Projections based on 2019 data estimated 801,400 electricians in 2029. If that growth rate had continued, the estimate for 2030 would be near 808,000 electricians.
Yet in the most recent report, the projection was only 795,700 electricians for 2030. Why did that number fall?
According to the BLS, “Demand is the key determinant in explaining future jobs.” So, while we don’t know the exact reason, we know the pandemic impacted demand for electricians somehow.
The change was slight — demand for electricians is still growing, after all — but it’s enough to make you wonder how the pandemic may be changing the electrician shortage forever.
How to cope with the electrician shortage
No matter what the future holds, the electrician shortage isn’t going anywhere soon. Here are a few things you can do to cope with the repercussions:
- Outsource tasks that take up your electricians’ time. Services like parallel wire reels can help you complete runs 50% to 70% faster.
- Recruit at high schools and career classes. You can also partner with local elementary schools to get kids working with their hands while they’re young.
- Work with trade or vocational schools. Scholarships and apprenticeships make electrical work more attractive to students who are uncertain of their financial future.
- Hire a skilled labor staffing agency. You don’t have to do this alone. Get help finding and attracting electricians from recruitment professionals.
- Improve productivity with software and planning. Maximize every moment of your electricians’ time in the field using technology.
While skilled labor shortages are an enormous problem, acting in these ways can help you reduce their impact on your business.
Why You Can’t Afford Not to Use Parallel Wire Reels
How Renewable Energy is Shaping the Job Outlook for Electric Utilities and Contractors
This article was originally published on April 13, 2021. It was updated and republished on January 4, 2022.
There is currently a severe, nation-wide shortage of professionals in the skilled trades—particularly electricians. Skilled trades are an endangered species these days as more and more young people opt for jobs in technology, business management, and other college-track careers.
Why does the passage state that the economic and social disruption caused by the Covid 19 pandemic is devastating? ›
The economic and social disruption caused by the pandemic is devastating: tens of millions of people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty, while the number of undernourished people, currently estimated at nearly 690 million, could increase by up to 132 million by the end of the year.
For Electricians (except industrial and power system), over the period 2019-2028, new job openings (arising from expansion demand and replacement demand) are expected to total 23,400 , while 20,300 new job seekers (arising from school leavers, immigration and mobility) are expected to be available to fill them.
But the union said the electrician shortage across the country has been going on for 20 years. Electrical Trades Union national secretary Michael Wright said SA was short “thousands” of electricians, and nationally Australia needed another 40,000 to 60,000.
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.
In short, the future for electricians is expected to be bright for many reasons: A worker shortage could mean there is a need for new electrical professionals to receive training and enter the field. Positive expectations for industries, for example construction, should guide the skilled trades sector overall.