In Part 1 of our series, Marty talks about the challenges in the electrical industry and how etA is working to address the apprenticeship gap.
Lutron: Thank you for talking with us, Marty. I’d like to start by asking you to talk a little bit about the biggest challenges in the electrical industry right now.
Marty Riesberg (MR): Absolutely. Our biggest issue right now is attracting new talent. The industry is skewing older, with many experienced professionals thinking about retirement. Both large firms and family-owned businesses are struggling to keep up with demand for skilled workers, and to make sure they have apprentices for the future of their business. That’s the gap we need to help fill.
Lutron: Why is that?
MR: For a lot of young people, the electrical industry just doesn’t seem as appealing as college or other career paths. School counselors tend to encourage students to pursue the direction that they came through: the university system. It's a common perception that the construction industry isn’t a viable or financially rewarding career option. We need to correct this misconception, and help people realize learning a trade gives you a life-long skill, a family-sustaining wage, more quickly than most college graduates, and all while accruing very little or no debt at all to gain this expertise.
One of our goals here at the etA is to educate counselors and families about just how valuable electrical training can be. We are focusing on speaking at national meetings for school counselors, giving presentations to dispel those myths, and helping potential apprentices understand what a great career path this can be. The funniest part is that after these presentations it’s very common to have 2 or 3 people stay behind to ask, “how old is too old,” and consider whether they should become apprentices! We want to make sure more educators and students know the facts and understand the opportunities in the trade.
Lutron: That makes sense. What about the economy? Are you seeing concerns from potential apprentices that a slowing economy might impact construction?
MR: It’s an understandable concern, but in reality, construction trades are facing such a project backlog, and such consistent demand, that they are very well positioned to ride out an economic slowdown. We’re still ready to offer thousands of apprentices the opportunity to learn new skills, establish a life-long business for themselves, and build a profitable career. And, unlike the cost of most four-year colleges, you can complete the whole apprenticeship program with little or no out-of-pocket costs – in fact, apprentices earn while they’re learning.
Lutron: So how is etA working to train this next generation of apprentices?
MR: Our mission is to grow the industry by recruiting and training the next generation of leaders. Getting the word out is the hard part. We have a comprehensive, high-caliber network of nearly 300 training facilities, but we have to communicate the value of the apprenticeship program more effectively. Over the next few years, we’re focused on promoting the value of gaining life-long skills and family-sustaining wages without going into debt. I like to say we’ve been the best-kept-secret for too long.
Lutron: Is your ideal apprentice the recent high school graduate?
MR: Yes and no. The ideal person is anyone ready to learn and grow in the industry. The average age of a starting apprentice is closer to 26 or 27, now, and there are some advantages to that. With a little work experience or college behind them, an apprentice has a little more perspective. They can see how the electrical industry gives them an opportunity to expand their knowledge, develop new skills, and build a rewarding career. There’s no perfect age or background to start an apprenticeship. It can even be a good second career.