NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry

Getting It Right

Posted on Nov 02, 2011 by John M Grau

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal asked the question: Why Aren’t Companies Getting the Employees They Need? It states that even with unemployment of 9%, companies are complaining that they can’t find skilled workers. They lay the blame on schools for not giving kids the right kind of training and on government for limiting the number of high-skill immigrants.

The author of the article lays blame with the employers themselves. The problem is that companies don’t train anymore. They expect to hire fully skilled and experienced workers at lower than market wages. It notes that apprenticeship programs have largely disappeared, along with internal management training programs.

Why aren’t companies training? The article states that apprenticeship programs require too much cooperation among employers and bigger investments in training infrastructure than the companies are willing to provide. They also don’t want to make the investment in training a worker that someone else might hire away.

The author suggests that companies bring back some aspects of the apprentice training system. Namely, pay the employee less while the company provides the training. Also, look more for people who could (rather than already can) do the job and bring them up to speed. The best place to find those workers is to promote from within the company.

While it may seem old-fashioned to some, the construction industry has been employing this model for decades — especially in the union segment of the industry. The union labor agreement is the catalyst for employer cooperation and joint funding of training programs. Anyone who has seen the incredible training centers built by NECA-IBEW apprentice training committees around the country can attest to our industry’s substantial investment in a training infrastructure.

Our system not only trains new entrants into the workforce but also provides upgrade training to current employees. And because the training costs are shared for a common pool of workers, individual employers are less concerned about investing in training for a worker they may later lose.

Companies and industries in need of more highly skilled workers could learn something from union electrical contractors. Maybe we’re doing something right after all.

About NECA Transmissions

NECA Transmissions is a collaborative effort from CEO John Grau and NECA staff to provide insight and feedback on key issues from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry.

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