The Electrical Worker online
November 2014

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A Good Jobs Boom?

As we report in this issue, the construction industry is making a comeback — a comeback fueled in large part by a resurgent oil and gas industry.

From the Rust Belt to the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies down to the Gulf Coast, North America's energy boom is translating into new jobs for tradesmen and contractors, breathing life into many communities hit hard by 2008's Great Recession.

The steady growth of renewable energy, such as solar and wind, means billions of dollars worth of work for skilled electricians now and into the future.

It's a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the United States and Canada. Not only can it potentially guarantee energy independence for generations, it could help reverse the "Walmartization" of the economy — the trend of too many low-wage, no opportunity jobs.

Skilled blue-collar labor was once the foundation of the middle class, providing decent wages and benefits, lifting up working families and their communities.

Outsourcing, union busting and government deregulation helped seal off this pathway to the middle class for millions of Americans and Canadians, but the ongoing energy-based construction recovery provides the IBEW and other building trades unions with a unique opportunity to make sure that these jobs are good ones, providing careers for thousands now entering the workforce.

But it won't happen if we don't seize this chance to grow.

From the oil fields of North Dakota to offshore rigs in Texas, too many energy companies are taking the low road, ignoring regulations and relying on low-skilled, low-paid workers to get the job done. It's not a surprise that an oil and gas worker is more likely to be killed on the job than a coal miner. Or that payroll fraud is running rampant in the industry, according to a recent labor department investigation.

What might seem like a money-saving shortcut in the rush to drill can result in poor workmanship, expensive delays and potentially disastrous accidents that place workers and the environment at risk.

We have a lot to offer the industry: the best trained and most competent electrical workforce on the continent. And we have what's needed to attract the right kind of workers in this increasingly labor-strapped market: good wages, benefits and opportunities for advancement.

But only by aggressively promoting ourselves and the work we do to industry stakeholders and the wider community can we guarantee that the energy boom results in a good jobs boom as well.


Also: Chilia: Chutzpah Read Chilia's Column

Edwin D. Hill

Edwin D. Hill
International President