The Electrical Worker online
November 2015

From the Officers
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Recruiting the Next Generation

The economic recovery in the construction industry is a reminder that the looming blue-collar skills shortage is closer than we think.

The baby-boom generation is on the verge of exiting the workforce, making educating the next generation of electrical workers a priority. Not just for the IBEW, mind you, but for the entire country.

The federal government got the message.

As we report in this issue (see IBEW Training Centers Receive Grant Windfall) the Labor Department's $4.8 million grant to the Electrical Training Alliance is a long overdue recognition that we can't bridge the skills gap without labor unions like the IBEW.

When it comes to construction, the building trades remain the largest private-sector jobs trainer in the country.

Neither our nonunion competition, nor the community college system can match the training and resources provided by the Alliance—formerly the National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee.

It's exciting to see our nation's leaders finally recognize the value of our excellent apprenticeship programs—and just how vital they are to making sure our economy keeps moving forward.

For many years, school counselors—and even many lawmakers—advised students to aim for college, while downplaying the trades as a career alternative.

Today as student loan debt continues to balloon out of control—all the while important skilled jobs go unfilled—the apprentice model pioneered by the building trades not only deserves federal financial support. It should be promoted by educational leaders and government officials as a viable alternative to a four-year degree.

Not only is the apprenticeship model a better deal for students and young people entering the workforce. It's necessary to make sure we have the workers needed to wire and build the country's infrastructure.

It's also vital to promote pre-apprenticeship programs—like those funded by the recent Labor Department grant—to help attract students unfamiliar to the trades, especially those in traditionally underrepresented groups, such as women and minorities.

Fueling economic growth and innovation requires a new generation of skilled blue-collar workers to step to the fore. It's something the IBEW and its employer partners in NECA have been helping to do for more than a century.

We look forward to working with lawmakers and the business community in continuing that tradition.


Also: Chilia: Making the Hard Work Count Read Chilia's Column

Lonnie R. Stephenson

Lonnie R. Stephenson
International President