Electrical Services in The Tampa Bay Area

The Endangered Tradesman

It’s Super Bowl weekend. The snacks are out, the beer is chilled, and all the guests are
eagerly watching their favorite teams compete for glory. Suddenly, the lights go out. The TV
shuts off in the middle of a play. Who you gonna call? The electrician, right? Well, not so much
anymore.
According to the National Electrical Contractors Association, 7,000 electricians join the
field each year; however, 10,000 of them retire, and it’s not likely to get any better. According to
a poll conducted by the National Association of Home Builders, only 3 percent of 18-to-25-year
olds who have decided on a career path say they would pursue a career in a construction-related
trade. The truth is, America is facing a tradesman crisis, and most, if not all, states are feeling the
impact.
Florida’s electrician shortage has a lot to do with demographics. According to Associated
Builders and Contractors, almost 21 percent of skilled trade workers are 55 and older, and 29
percent are between the ages of 45 and 54. This means that half of those who make up the field
will not be working much longer, and there simply isn’t enough young blood coming in to fill the
gaps.
Although the demand for electrical and plumbing services is high - which is good for
business - without licensed, qualified workers, it will go unmet. The result? Electrical work is
becoming more expensive.
Diego Garcia, 34, is an electrical contractor. He owns Tru-Line Electric, a residential
electrical repair and installation company in New Port Richey. He is one of the youngest
contractors in the area, and Tru-Line Electric is relatively new to the Tampa Bay area.
“It’s definitely a tough market now,” he said. “It’s not what many would say is a “sexy”
career, so it’s hard to get the younger generation interested in these jobs.” Garcia believes there
is often a blue-collar stigma that leads parents to discourage their children from going to a trade
school.
"It is important that the parents also be a part of this decision with the children,” he said.
“A lot of times they are under the stigma that it's not a career choice that they can make, and we
just kind of need to get over that hurdle.”
Many believe that blue-collar workers like electricians don’t make a great living. To the
contrary, working as an electrician, plumber or A/C technician can be highly lucrative in today’s
market, Garcia said.
The reality is, a tradesman can make a much better living than many of the people with
Bachelor's and Master’s degrees.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of a Journeyman
Electrician is $54,110 per year or approximately $26 an hour as of its last reporting in 2017.
Statistics show that depending on where he or she lives, and the company the electrician works
for, he or she could make up to $92,000 annually. Taking into account that trade school is often
shorter and cheaper than college, the average cost of a trade school degree being $33,000 -
choosing to be an electrician has concrete advantages.
On top of that, at this point it seems like society will always need electricians, plumbers,
roofers, and A/C technicians. These jobs are seen as “recession-proof,” meaning while other jobs
may lose value if the economy suffers, those who work in trades will always be needed. Job
security is a very important aspect of stability.
“Kids can get an education from these trade companies and then go off on their own and
get a career and be able to maintain themselves and their families. They can really do a lot of
things, it’s a huge thing for kids that want to take the opportunity” Garcia said.
Garcia attributes much of his success to his teacher and mentor Donald Blake, a former
electrical contractor turned teacher at Marchman Technical College in New Port Richey. "I was
fortunate and blessed to find a teacher,” Garcia said. “I would’ve failed high school if I hadn’t
gone to the electricity program. I will never forget that."
In addition to being an experienced electrician and business owner, during his 29-year
career as a teacher, Blake was recognized as Pasco County’s “Teacher of the Year” in 2016 and
was a finalist for the 2017 Florida state “Teacher of the Year” award.
Blake’s wife, Linda, also worked in the school system for many years as an Instructional
Trainer for the district. She helped teachers learn best practices to educate students and be the
best teachers they can be.
Blake recently retired from teaching, but along with his wife, is still very passionately
involved in helping the community understand the importance of this career path. He is
committed to assisting others who choose this route to become successful.
Both had a lot to say about the crisis Florida is facing with its shortage of young
tradesmen. Blake believes that high school is particularly geared toward college and does not
emphasize trade work as a viable alternative.
He believes intelligence takes many different forms. Simply saying a child is not good at
math isn’t necessarily accurate, nor does it mean he would not be able to excel in the application
of mathematics or science that being an electrician requires.
“Maybe they aren’t successful at reading this particular novel and being able to figure out
all the things in that book, or they’re not really good at learning a certain style of mathematics”
Blake explained. “When students were learning how to do parallel and series circuits, voltage
drops, and load calculations, all of a sudden they started getting really excited. Many of those in
the vocational industry confirm that a blue-collar stigma lingers around the field. However, when
there’s a crisis that requires a trade, society begins to see the necessity of this kind of work.
"When we have a storm and everybody is losing power, all of a sudden we need electricians,”
Blake said.
Once again, parents have the ability to sway how trade work is viewed. Talking about his
past experience Blake said, “Parents would call me and say ‘My son is not going to a technical
school, my child is going to a university.’ There is this mindset that the vocational field is
something that is beneath their dignity. To work for a living. To go out and possibly get dirty and
sweat.”
Unfortunately, there is a huge disconnect between public education and trade schools.
The two are seen as two entirely separate entities when in reality, they should work hand-in-hand
to shape the future occupational landscape of the state and of America as a whole. According to
Linda, funding for trade schools is low. This results in scarce resources and little to no promotion
of this specific educational path. Also, there aren’t enough experienced teachers who have a
history working as tradesmen in the field, which makes a big difference in how administration
and curriculum are decided on and operated. It isn't just the electrical field feeling the sting of the
decline in blue-collar workers entering the field.
Another company feeling the effects of fewer people willing to join the blue collar
workforce is Continental Plumbing, a plumbing company located in New Port Richey, Florida,
owned by Chad Hart and Amy Hart.
Amy Hart said they’re having a hard time finding qualified employees for a variety of
reasons. “There’s no definitive training program, and there’s no online training program,” Hart
explained. “In the plumbing trade, at least here in Florida, there’s no way to encourage people,
other than us teaching you. There's also very little licensing for plumbers in Florida; there are
only two counties that recognize the journeyman license in the entire state.”
In Florida, Pinellas and Miami-Dade are the only counties that have and recognize the
Journeyman license for plumbers, Hart said. Additionally, no stateside curriculum or
apprenticeship for the trade exists, which causes its own set of problems.
“Many private companies offer classes where they just guide students through the code
books to assist them with passing the test. I feel strongly that this same type of program is
needed with availability throughout the state or partially online.”
In Chad Hart’s opinion, the small number of young people getting involved in plumbing
and electricity has to do with company culture.
"I think a lot of kids these days aren’t as big about the money; they’re all about the
culture and what they do with the business. If you have a good culture and they feel like they’re
welcomed they'll try it out," Hart continued, "They want to feel like they’re being utilized, like
there’s a goal at the end, they want to feel like they’re a part of something bigger". It is true that
more people are looking for what they consider to be meaningful jobs. A dreary, passionless 9-5
will not cut it for many people in today’s society. But is there anything else that could be
contributing to this shortage? There sure is.
"Women are missing out. There’s a huge opportunity out there," Amy said.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women working in construction numbered
1.3 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2015. Only 1.4 percent of plumbers in the United States are
women according to the U.S. Department of Labor. What percent of electricians are women?
Only 3 percent.
Given the demand for electricians in a field traditionally dominated by men, Amy Hart
added that it is important to start a dialogue about how the trade businesses, which tend to be
associated with an old way of thinking, can move to fit more modern values in today’s society.
For the past 100 years at least, generally speaking, men have been the construction
workers, welders, or carpenters of communities. America has yet to distance itself from that
antiquated way of thinking. Women entering the trade field would significantly tip the scales
when it comes to the availability of skilled workers.
Schools and technical colleges need to start working together to make sure students have
an array of choices when it comes to what they will be doing in their future. Parents and schools
should also be making sure they’re not closing the doors for children based on the stigma
surrounding vocational occupations. Trade work is an important component in the infrastructure
of society. Helping a community regain power after a natural disaster, keeping a family warm on
a cold winter's night, and making sure running water is available to school children is, after all,
work that makes a difference. Let’s not wait until the lights suddenly go out to recognize this.
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