The Electrical Worker online
January 2022

From the Officers
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Building Paths to the Middle Class

The recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is critical to restoring America's economic competitiveness and transitioning towards a modern electrical grid and clean energy future. This legislation will mean millions of jobs, especially energy jobs. And while all this new work is good news, it means we must take the growing skilled blue-collar jobs shortage seriously.

In both the construction and utility industries, the baby boomer generation is on its way out of the workforce without enough workers from younger generations to fill the gap. The Center for Energy and Workforce Development found that more than half of the electric and natural-gas utility workforce could retire within the next decade.

There are many reasons for this, but one of the biggest is the cultural bias against blue-collar jobs promoted by our schools and policymakers. Too often depicted as low-skill, dead-end jobs, we IBEW members know that this couldn't be further from the truth. A union wireman or lineman enjoys a salary and benefits package that rival many white-collar professions. Many times they even exceed them. And unlike many college graduates, our members start their professional careers debt-free. Every day we're working with our heads and hands performing critical work powering North America.

As IBEW members, every single one of us must play our part in creating pipelines to connect workers to futures in the construction and energy industries. From talking to high school students to promoting pre-apprenticeship programs, we must be out in our communities talking about all the good things a career in the IBEW brings.

This looming labor shortage is why our diversity and inclusion efforts are especially critical. Despite all the progress we've made in the last decade, the construction and utility industries are still predominantly white and male. Today, only 6% of all construction workers are Black; just 3% are women. That means a big part of the workforce remains outside our ranks. We're not going to fill the growing skills crunch without ensuring that our industries represent the full diversity of North America as a whole. Diversity is not just a moral imperative but an economic one as well.

That is why the IBEW Strong program focuses on creating a welcoming atmosphere for new workers and being proactive about reaching out to women and workers of color who might have never considered a career in the trades.

We are not going to rebuild our infrastructure without rebuilding our energy workforce. More than ever, investing in our economy and a clean-energy future means investing in recruiting and training the next generation of energy workers. For 130 years, the IBEW has fought to ensure that energy jobs are good, middle-class jobs that support families and uplift our communities. We are committed to working with our employer partners and lawmakers to meet future workforce demands and open pathways to the middle class for tens of thousands of working people.


Also: Cooper: The Year of the Worker Read Cooper's Column

Lonnie R. Stephenson

Lonnie R. Stephenson
International President