neca seeks electrician apprentices

Mahoning Valley NECA Seeks Electrician Apprentices

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Like many of the construction trades, the electrical contracting industry faces a potential workforce shortage in the coming years. And that shortage could prove lucrative for workers who get into training programs during the ebb. 

“There’s a huge manpower shortage across the country,” says Jack Savage, field representative for the eastern region of the National Electrical Contractors Association. “It’s a national problem. It hasn’t hit us between the eyes yet but it’s coming. So we want to get the word out about this program and get as many people in it as we can.”  

With roots going back to 1928, the Mahoning Valley NECA represents 12 member contractors. 

The trade group assists members in the negotiation and implementation of labor agreements with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers locals 573 and 64, provides training and offers a vehicle for networking, says Tom Lipka, who replaced Savage as executive director of the local chapter three months ago.  

Apprentice electricians are generally paid full-time wages as they go through the program. They have few financial obligations and can easily make more than $50,000 annually as first-year journeymen, according to Lipka. 

College students, meanwhile, often wind up accumulating debt and start at $30,000 annually, depending on the profession, he says. 

Apprenticeships for commercial/industrial electricians run five years, while someone doing residential work is typically in the program three years. 

“Our biggest issue is getting the word out about our apprenticeship program. It’s an incredible program and when people hear about it their jaws generally drop,” Savage says.

“On top of that, nationally speaking, there’s going to be a huge manpower shortage for electricians. It’s an amazing opportunity.” 

The two training centers operated by the IBEW locals take about 20 new industrial commercial apprentices each year and the residential program in Mahoning County brings in about 10. 

The electrical trade isn’t immune to the problems caused by the drug epidemic, but those who come through apprenticeship programs are required to remain drug free, Lipka says. 

“It’s a bit different than the standard machine shop when you hire somebody off the street,” he observes. 

The business can be cyclical, Lipka acknowledges. 

Members of Trumbull County’s IBEW Local 573 were “busy full time” during construction of the Lordstown Energy Center, he says. Now, Mahoning County’s IBEW Local 64 is “fairly busy” while 573 members are not as active as they would prefer. 

“We hope that turns around pretty quickly,” he says. 

Potential projects for the area include a second power plant adjacent to the Lordstown Energy Center and the regional distribution center for TJX Companies Inc.

“There’s also a lot of large projects going on around our area,” Savage says. “There’s work to be had for people who want it, even if it’s not strictly local.”    

A NECA jurisdiction a couple of hours away will soon begin recruiting here as it faces its own workforce shortage. If enough leave the area, Savage says, it could exacerbate the workforce problems here once work picks back up.  

Despite the chapter’s comparatively small size, Mahoning Valley NECA has “a pretty large voice” with the national association, Savage says. 

National presidents have included Rex Ferry of VEC Inc. in Girard and Dave Dickey of Joe Dickey Electric Inc. in North Lima. The field representative program was started by a former local chapter manager, Savage notes. 

The chapter has strong representation at national conferences. “We’ll send 20 people and you’ll get chapters that have five times the number of people that we do and maybe send 10 people,” Lipka says. “There’s a real commitment to the national organization by our members.” 

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.