scorecardConsider getting trained to become an electrician — and fast
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Consider getting trained to become an electrician — and fast

Catherine Boudreau   

Consider getting trained to become an electrician — and fast
Careers3 min read
Pete Ryan for Business Insider
  • Electricians are in high demand as the US transitions to a greener economy.
  • More than 73,000 jobs are expected to open each year over the next decade.

Automakers are churning out electric vehicles. Solar panels and wind turbines are increasingly dotting the landscape. Homeowners and real-estate developers are leaning into green buildings.

There are signs everywhere that America is transitioning to a greener economy. To pick up the pace, the US needs thousands of new electricians to do much of the behind-the-scenes work like installing and maintaining charging stations, transmission lines, and electric appliances.

"We're seeing this revolution to get off gas and fossil fuels," said Grant Shmelzer, the CEO of the Independent Electrical Contractors of Chesapeake, which runs an apprenticeship program in the Maryland-Virginia area. "When you look at what the state and federal government is shooting for, it's all electric driven."

The Inflation Reduction Act is set to pour nearly $400 billion over the next decade into climate action, including tax breaks for solar and wind projects, electric vehicles, electric appliances like heat pumps, and low-carbon manufacturing. There are new loans and grants for transmission lines. Two dozen states have set their own goals to slash greenhouse-gas emissions from energy, transportation, and buildings.

Federal data indicates electrician jobs are growing faster than the average of all occupations, with 73,500 openings expected each year over the next decade. That's more than triple the projected number of yearly openings for physicians and surgeons. Some industry estimates suggest demand for electricians will be even higher now that incentives from the IRA are ramping up.

The mean annual wage of electricians in 2022 was about $65,000, but salaries vary by state. In California, a master electrician can make as much as an attorney — or more than $100,000 — without racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, said Tom Bowen, the president of Qmerit, a company in Irvine that connects homeowners and commercial properties with contractors who can install EV chargers, rooftop solar panels, and battery storage.

The company has about 3,500 contractors in the US and Canada and is adding new contractors to its platform every day, Bowen said.

He added that there aren't enough trained electricians to keep up with demand, partly because they're retiring at a faster rate than they're entering the field.

Industry experts said that reversing the trend would require overcoming several cultural hurdles and investing in apprenticeship programs. Traditionally the trades have been dominated by white men; federal data indicates that in 2021, only 2% of electricians were women and nearly 80% were white. Many millennials and Gen Zers also lack interest in these areas and are often told that a four-year college degree is the ticket to success.

"The education system is still built on getting every student to go to college," Shmelzer said.

As Gen Zers rethink college, some states like Maryland are trying a different approach. It aims to have 45% of high schoolers go through an apprenticeship program or graduate with an industry-recognized credential by 2030.

Shmelzer said the Independent Electrical Contractors of Chesapeake was pouring a lot of resources into recruiting more high-school students, as well as career changers and veterans.

The group educates about 1,000 people a year and places them in electrician apprenticeships with companies in its network, many of which offer tuition reimbursement. Over four years, students earn a wage and log the thousands of work hours required to become a licensed electrician.

Labor unions like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers offer similar apprenticeship programs.

Shmelzer said there are many "career circuits" for electricians, including indoor construction and utility work as well as project management and design. In Virginia, at least 500 electricians are needed right now because commercial buildings are being renovated into apartments as more people work from home and new data centers are popping up, Shmelzer said. Electricians are essential to all this construction.

"These apprenticeship programs allow people to provide for their families with great wages, little to no debt, and a lot of career growth," Shmelzer said.