We've all heard Willie Nelson sing, "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys." What if the lyrics to this song referenced contractors instead of cowboys? How about electricians, plumbers or painters?
Although there may not be a song on the airwaves discouraging children to get into the skilled trades, the message is no less prevalent. Wood shop, metal shop, auto shop, and all of the "shop" classes have long since been gone from public schools as budgets got tighter. School districts are applauded for sending their graduates to college. It's a combination that has contributed to the steady decline of students selecting a hands-on career. As a result, unions making up the building trades have had to go it alone where attracting talent out of our school systems is concerned.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) is diligently and actively recruiting new workers with job fairs, DVDs, websites like ElectrifyingCareers.com, and even the sponsorship of a race car in its attempt to get a few moments in front of America's youth.
Recruitment sites like ElectrifyingCareers.com give broad descriptions of dozens of positions available within the industry and provide easy steps to get more information. The site even tailors its information to the specific needs of students, parents, counselors, and people interested in making a mid-life career change to the skilled trades.
Additionally, a website founded and supported by the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO called HelmetsToHardhats.com is specifically designed to recruit people leaving the military, a group that is known for their responsible employment habits and a team mentality that leads to success in the construction industry.
These online outreach programs are often the first step toward attracting employees to the electrical industry because they provide information necessary to make smart decisions about their future.
Once a potential electrician is turned on to the idea of a career in the skilled trades, IBEW offers pre-apprenticeship programs for those who may want to test the waters before jumping in. These weekend programs provide a forum to learn about becoming an electrician without forcing attendees to sacrifice a full-time job and paycheck. These 10-week introductory programs give an overview of the electrical field without demanding an immediate commitment. However, if the potential worker is interested and successfully completes the pre-apprenticeship, the graduate is automatically accepted into the IBEW's official apprenticeship program.
Speaking the language of younger workers is not only essential for attracting new men and women to any industry, it's a valuable way to connect with those already involved in the trade. The IBEW recognized this, and about a year and a half ago started a website that is addressing that very issue. It's called IBEWHourPower.com, nicknamed Hour Power in the construction industry.
Using state-of-the-art web technology that capitalizes on streaming video, Hour Power has essentially become the union's own television network, the difference being viewers/visitors "tune in" via the Internet instead of television. Hour Power is chock-full of feature stories celebrating the successes of the IBEW work force, "fireside chats" with international president Edwin D. Hill, on-the-job tips, news briefs from IBEW happenings around the United States and Canada, and a wide variety of other offerings. Visitors to the site are impressed by the abundance of resources and TV network-style presentation in which the material is offered.
Efforts like IBEWHourPower.com, combined with the union's multi-faceted push to get in front of the high school and college crowd are two key elements in IBEW's effort to stay current with an audience that grew up with laptops instead of Big Chief notebooks.
And the timing couldn't be better. Even though the economy is volatile, construction projects are still moving forward in cities and towns across the country. As older tradesmen retire, who will take their place if the recruitment of younger workers takes a backseat? There's little doubt that electrical employees will remain in high demand, both because of new construction projects and the need to maintain and improve the country's aging electrical grid.
Outreach efforts by the IBEW and other electrical organizations are paying off, but there is still room in the ranks. With continued effort, more people will begin to understand the benefits of these stable, high-paying careers that take employees out of the cubicle and into the open air. With improved public perception and an ever-increasing demand for electrical skills, perhaps soon more mothers will be proud to say their babies grew up to be electricians.