Like in many industry sectors, electricians are working to a later age, however, for once, this has nothing to do with pensions, but rather to keep up with increasing demand from the construction sector.

The rise of older electrician……and the decline of new recruits

On the face of it, this statement makes absolutely no sense. Any logical working arrangement sees older workers take retirement and an influx of new workers all eager to take the helm. This is not the case though in the construction industry. The construction industry is becoming increasingly reliant on an older workforce in order to keep up with the growing demand.

What’s Happening with Electricians?

As of the 1st January 2012, 3,185 registered JIB electricians in the UK were over the age of 56. Whilst this figure may not seem significant it actually forms the only age group in the construction industry to not suffer a decline in workforce numbers in recent years. In fact, it is the only age group that has seen as increase in workforce numbers year on year since 1987 suggesting that older electricians are delaying retirement to keep the construction industry moving forward.

Source: JIB Labour Report 2012

Electricians are working for longer and in fewer numbers.

In just a few years, the construction industry has seen a major reduction in workforce numbers, particularly in younger age groups. According to the latest JIB Labour Report, in 2005, there were 20,518 registered electricians. By 2012, this figure had shrunk to 17,986 and the reduction does not show any sign of slowing. For many of us 2005 does not seem too long ago and a reduction of 2,532 JIB registered electricians in this length of time is cause for concern. What’s most significant is the number of those between the ages of 27 and 56 who have left the industry. The figures below show that 2639 workers who should have been in their prime have actually left the industry over the last 7 years.

Source: JIB Labour Report 2012

Lack of skilled construction workers

To cope with foreseen UK construction demand, the workforce will need to increase significantly and we really need to start seeing more and more people entering the industry to meet the demands that will be required in the future. One key issue is the lack of apprenticeships that allow people to retrain and get the required skills. The recent economic climate has also made things more difficult but with a clear turn in the economy on the horizon will we be able to meet the demands of our growing nation?

The UK faces a shortage of 66,800 construction workers by the year 2050. This means that the workers at that time approaching retirement (and that could include many people reading this article) may be coerced into working later and later into old age. And who knows what state the construction industry will be in at that time if changes don’t happen soon.

Why is this happening in the construction industry anyway?

According to recruitment specialist Randstad CPE the shortage of construction workers is due to skills shortages, an ageing workforce and a restrictive migration policy. An ageing workforce presents a particular problem. In America it is not uncommon to find electricians working until they are past 70. Without their input, the country would not perform efficiently and would have serious consequences for prosperity.

Is the UK heading the same way?

Unfortunately the forecast figures are not looking promising for the UK and it’s not just the construction industry likely to experience a workforce shortfall. In fact the education sector is likely to be the worst effected.

An analysis carried out by Randstad CPE in 2012 indicated that the UK will require a workforce of 35.4 million to meet demand, however an ageing population will leave only 32.3 million people of working age ‘ currently 3.1 million short of the required demand.

With the construction industry recognised as a key profession and representing 2% of the current workforce if this analysis is proven, it will be sure to have a serious effect on the future of the UK economy.

Surely a big promotional campaign will suffice to attract new people?

Unfortunately this is unlikely to help. In fact the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) foresees that the construction sector is set to lose 400,000 people over the next 5-10 years (and more still in the next 20 years) through the retirement of highly experienced electricians.

This makes alarming reading. With trainee electricians studying for qualifications and gaining experience, 5 years is not a long time. As a guide, an electricians apprenticeship can take 3-4 years. Do we have that long? Already this would lead to a swathe of inexperienced electricians entering the construction industry just as the more experienced guys are about to leave. Of course this all would be an ‘at best’ scenario assuming that such a promotional campaign would be successful.

As it currently stands, the UK faces a repeat of the skills crisis that affected the construction industry badly in the 1990’s. To avoid such a situation, action needs to be taken now.

What needs to be done?

It is essential that young people still in school are in the mindset that working within the construction and engineering sector is a worthwhile, rewarding and well paid career. In fact, the engineering sector is one of very few sectors which is struggling to fill job vacancies with the right people. With engineers behind ground breaking constructions such as the Shard and the Olympic Stadium, it is a career choice where the opportunities are practically limitless and never-ending. In the coming years we will see a continued demand for new houses and renewable energies will be standard practice. However, without the skills and manpower to make this happen, the UK is in danger of losing out in a worrying way.