“Is technology affecting electricians’ job security?” This is one of the questions Klein asked in a 2017 State of the Industry survey. Over 600 union and non-union electricians participated in the survey. And, have no fear, Klein found that electricians still get plenty of work. Generally speaking, Pros didn’t even seem too concerned about running out of things to do anytime soon.
As we look back to that survey, the electrical trades seem even more understaffed than we anticipated. We wanted to see if those predictions still looked solid several years later. That might help us anticipate the growing need for fresh interest and participation in the electrical trades and how technology continues to affect job growth.
Is Technology Affecting Electricians Job Security
Klein’s initial research found that 42% of electricians claimed to have seen an increase in work over the past year. This marked an increase from 23% in 2015 and 32% in 2016.
According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the 2020 Median pay for an electrician came to $56,900 per year. That’s around $27.36 per hour.
You can get into the field with just a high school diploma or equivalent and zero work experience. Most training occurs as an on-the-job apprenticeship.
So how many of these jobs are there? Before the latest housing boom, 2019 saw 739,200 jobs in the field with an estimated 8% growth rate over the next 10 years. That’s much faster than average and amounts to an additional 62,200 jobs by 2029.
We’d wager those numbers look even better now given the recent boom in housing construction and relocations.
So How Do Advances in Technology Affect Electrician Jobs?
Smart Homes and The Internet of Things (IoT)
I knew the role of the electrician was changing when I built a home in South Carolina back in the early 2000s. The contractor had the electrician handle all of the alarm wiring and network cabling. Before the year 2000 that would have been unheard of. Now, however, electricians are finding low voltage wiring, smart lighting, and networking systems part of their business model.
That’s not to say that every electrician also installs network systems and low voltage wiring for alarm systems, etc. However, it does mean that many electrical contractors are bringing people on board for the specific purpose of not having to farm out these tasks to separate companies.
That actually opens up some opportunities for those going into the electrical trades. Those looking to apprentice in the electrical trades could do well to keep an open mind towards opportunities to cross-train in low voltage wiring, smart lighting, and networking.
LED Transition – Reducing Callbacks
We do see advances in product development that reduces call-backs. Even the use of LED lighting means less time spent replacing halogen and Xenon parking lot bulbs using lifts. Instead, we’re seeing companies take a long-term approach and replace existing metal halide lights and ballasts with LED fixtures. These not only carry a much longer life expectancy, but they also use much less power.
From the electricians we’ve spoken to—good riddance. Our Pros would much rather replace existing light fixtures with LEDs than upgrade lamps and ballasts every year. Unless new commercial construction wanes significantly, the reduction of callbacks to new technology shouldn’t significantly affect jobs.
Tilt Wall Construction
One of the more interesting technologies over the past several decades has been the more widespread use of tilt-wall construction for larger warehouses and facilities. With this style of construction outer wall electrical conduit, boxes, and more can be preinstalled prior to the pour. When planned properly, that can really save man-hours later and negate having to surface mount a large number of boxes and EMT.
In this example, technology forces a shift in expertise. Instead of basic surface mount work, a skilled tradesman can preposition materials according to a blueprint and save countless hours of work in the process. You still need to do the work, but you gain a nicer, cleaner finished product.
Upgrading the Grid
Anyone with a smart meter knows that the days of the meter-reader have long passed. Now, the electric company can read your meter from the office using the integrated powerline network. While this eliminated hundreds of entry-level jobs in each state, most would agree that the potential benefits seem well worth it. We also don’t typically lump meter-readers into the “electrician” bucket as they don’t require the same qualifications or skillsets. Still, it serves as an example of what other types of technology leaps to look out for.
Automation and Robotics? Not So Much
Everyone thinks of robotics when the technology question comes up. Really, though, robotics has more to do with eliminating repetitive and dangerous jobs. Manufacturing certainly benefits from the use of automation. Not too many electricians should lose work to robots in the next decade. And—at least for now—robots need operators.
We also don’t see drones used much in commercial electrical work. However, replacing more dangerous high voltage jobs typically done via helicopter might not be a bad move. For any sort of remote area inspection, drones prove very useful and we wouldn’t be surprised to see increased use over the next decade.
Where Electrician Jobs Come From
The survey also showed that the increasing workload comes through several places. That included new home construction, commercial properties, office buildings, and retrofitting in homes. In addition, as technology continues to improve and become more affordable for the homeowner, electricians have seen an increase in high-tech installations in residential structures.
As the trend to equip new homes with higher-tech installation continues to grow, there is increasing concern that skilled electricians are in too short supply.
“It is no surprise that there is a high demand for skilled electricians in the residential and commercial space. Given the growing shortage of skilled trade professionals, we expect that demand to continue to rise. High-tech installations in the housing and commercial construction will only continue to increase. If we cannot fill these positions with skilled workers, businesses and homeowners will see more delayed projects and higher home prices.”Mark Klein, President Sales and Marketing, Klein Tools
No Shortage of Work
As it turns out, the results from Klein’s survey don’t come as a complete shock. Like many of the trades, the electrical field is a great trade to get into these days. There’s no shortage of work. As the supply of highly-trained electricians continues to drop with so many moving into retirement, future seasoned veterans should see a significant increase in pay as demand grows.
So is technology affecting electricians’ job security? Clearly, yes and no….clearly.
As the high-tech trend continues, less than one-fifth of the electricians surveyed are worried. They don’t believe the tech trend will negatively affect their job. Most electricians also feel that they have the necessary skills to keep up with the technological advancements of the “smart home” trend. Klein has even begun to develop training programs to keep burgeoning electricians up to date on these complex installs.
“Many young electricians entering the industry enjoy the challenges and tech-dependency of smart homes and want to experience working on the newest technology. Klein Tools knows how important ongoing training programs are to staying up-to-date on cutting-edge technologies. And, [they] partner with various organizations to provide internships and apprentice programs to those entering the industry to keep up with the demand of complex installations. As electricians continue to adapt to a more high-tech industry, it is important that we continue to give them the training and tools needed to manage the most difficult tasks.”Mark Klein
Have you lost a job to technology (particularly as an electrician? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading!