At the Milwaukee product event last week, a passionate man named Michael Callanan — he’s Executive Director of the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC), and he works with both the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) — spoke to us about a problem with the next generation of skilled workers: there aren’t enough of them. Looking ahead, the NJATC has created a program to fully prepare and train electrical apprentices and journeymen, which makes the hip-deep wading through acronyms more than worthwhile.
Michael said the “hands-on” crafts suffer from a bad image nowadays, and the differences in the way things are done now vs. thirty years ago will hurt all of us in the long run — for instance, most parents or counselors today will tell young people that they’re throwing their life away if they don’t go to college. We’re not saying college isn’t a great place or that it can’t help a young person along their way, but it’s not the only option.
This line of thought got me thinking about how we’re going to train the next generation of workers. Colleges certainly can’t do it, and as the current batch ages and retires, where is the qualified group behind them going to come from? How will we train them, and what will they have to know ten or twenty years from now?
It’s a large topic that makes my brain hurt, but I think Michael’s impassioned plea to wake up and smell the industry turnover might be a timely call that we need to start listening to now, instead of when it becomes a more serious issue. How do we get the net-savvy, info-hungry kids of today to become interested in being the skilled and qualified electricians and such of tomorrow?
Sure, organizations like the NJATC can help, but as Mr. Callanan said in his presentation, 80,000 people applied and the program could only take 12,000, and the demand drastically outstrips this amount. We’re in an employment slump right now, but the problem isn’t going to go away — houses and buildings will still need fixing and building in fifteen or twenty years.
It’s an interesting issue, and I don’t think many people want to think about it right now. There’s no glamor or sky-high salaries attached, just a good honest living that provides a much-needed service. My question is, when did that fall out of fashion?