How to bridge the gap as more skilled workers retire

Local News

Construction is booming in Erie and across the country, but there are not enough workers to go around.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is a shortage of more than $200,000 construction workers in any given month. 

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 56 Business Manager Jim Nuber said, “We’re actually employing people from down south where work isn’t there at the moment. So, they’re moving north.”

Electricians, plumbers, welders, and other skilled trades are all in need.  Nuber explained that his union offers an apprenticeship program that is rewarding for those who are willing to put in the time and, at least, have a high school diploma or GED.  The difference, he said, is “they get paid while they’re in school, not like in a college.”

The program’s training typically lasts five years. Once the person is certified a journeyman, they can expect to earn more than $33 per hour.  

Money is a question that often comes up when Nuber visits schools.  During a recent discussion at Fort LeBoeuf High School, he tried to be candid.

“A lot of them are thinking that once they go through their four years of college, they’re going to come out and get a $100,000 job. They just don’t realize everybody starts at the bottom and gets the on-the-job training no matter what it is,” he said.

Cara Horchen, coordinator of the Center for Post-Secondary and Career Discovery at For LeBoeuf, believes there are stereotypes that the industry must overcome. 

“I think a lot of it comes from fear of working in a factory and being dirty, and I think a lot of parents always want more for their children,” she said.

Nuber said, “I just think the parents need to know that there are other options out there; that there’s family-sustaining jobs, working with your hands and building things.”

The skills gap is projected to grow, and it is becoming so problematic that it is catching the attention of lawmakers.

State Representative Pat Harkins (D-1st Dist.) said, “Myself and Seth Grove, representative from down around York, came up with a caucus specifically towards technical and trades education, as well as placement within the field.”

Harkins, who attended the former Tech Memorial High School a few years after Nuber graduated, said they have hearings with stakeholders around the state where they gain insight about bridging the divide. 

“As the students realize that there’s money to be made, and that they can do something that they’re inclined to like and have fun with, I think it’ll grow more,” he said. “Just in the past two years, we’ve noticed an incline of people having an interest.”

Back at Fort LeBoeuf, Horchen said it is important to do something you enjoy, as well as being able to find a job. 

“What are the jobs available for them and what does the outlook look like? We want them to be able to make knowledgeable decisions about their future based on their interest and the job market and get them in a place that best fits them.”

To learn more about the Union 56 program, you can go to http://www.ibewlocal56.org/training.html.

For more information about apprenticeship opportunities visit Apprenticeship.gov/.

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