Charlotte is one of the most favorable commercial construction markets in the entire nation, according to CBRE’s U.S. Development Opportunity Index.
The country’s 15th largest city is experiencing an uptick in construction after Covid-19 challenges, though skilled worker shortages and supply chain interruptions remain thorny issues. This year began with more than 195,000 unfilled positions across the construction industry due to a lack of skilled workers, including commercial electricians.
As the workforce development coordinator with Rosendin Electric, Troy Vandine faces this challenge every day and is tasked with developing strategies and opportunities to fill the company’s pipeline.
“We started the workforce development program at Rosendin to help get more recruitment and participation into our union and our workforce here in Charlotte, which we desperately need,” Vandine said. “We have 100 electricians, and we need 15 more immediately. Over the next year, that’s going to keep growing exponentially. Over the next five years, it’s really a concerning number that we’re looking at.”
Vandine sat down with the Charlotte Business Journal to talk about how Rosendin is responding to the construction workforce shortage in the Charlotte area. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What are you focusing on most with the workforce development program at Rosendin?
Troy Vandine: Our goal is to train the younger guys that we have in-house and bring them up through the ranks, and if they want a leadership role, get them to that point.
But we also assist the union and recruit new electrical workers for our area. We are a union contractor, and we work with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) local union 379. They have a great apprenticeship program, but we’re just not turning out enough electricians on the younger side.
Did this worker shortage exist before the Covid-19 pandemic began?
Vandine: In 2008-2009, when the housing market crashed and everybody felt the recession, much of the generation who were in their late twenties to late thirties went to look for more dependable jobs in maintenance or manufacturing. Now, 10 to 12 years later, the groups that left never came back. On top of that, only 80% of the workforce that was laid off or took furlough due to Covid-19 have come back. We lost a generation of skilled electricians that would be field training the younger people as they’re coming up, and 20% of our best people just haven’t returned.
What does the future look like for skilled construction electricians?
Vandine: Over 70% of the licensed electricians in North Carolina are over the age of 51, which means within 10 years, we’ll lose all that skill to retirement. Only 5% are under the age of 30. These are terrifying numbers. Charlotte’s one of the fastest-growing cities right now, and the work is ever-present. We are expecting 2% to 5% growth just this year. There are a lot of electrical contractors here, but we are all pulling from the same pool of electricians.
How does the workforce program address this urgent need?
Vandine: Rosendin is one of the largest union contractors in the U.S., and we have several grant programs in place with the local union and other not-for-profit organizations to expand apprenticeship programs or offer career classes. We are also going to the high school and career fair level because the younger generation doesn’t seem to want to go into skilled labor. There’s really a misconception about the construction industry. There are so many avenues that can lead you down a multitude of career paths that are not in the mud and dirt.
There are so many different avenues and opportunities, whether it be with the material companies, purchasing the material to get it to the site, or whether it be with a partner like DEWALT or Stanley Black & Decker where they’re building the tools. It’s really becoming a technologically advanced trade. We have 3D modeling and other computer-based careers. You can go through an apprenticeship and get paid while you learn. There is no college debt. It’s a very technical and advanced trade.
How has the worker shortage impacted wages and the overall cost and timelines for jobs?
Vandine: The electrical industry is more competitive than it has been in years. Everybody wants their building faster than in previous years, so part of the way we’re trying to cope with it is outsourcing some of the material handling and with an increase in wages. Salaries have increased by about 15% to 20% across the board over the past two years.
The cost of all metals has increased at least 200%. Many of the pieces and parts we need come from other countries, and the shipping costs have quadrupled over the past 18 months. We used to be able to get a shipping container sent overseas for roughly $6,000. Now that same shipping container costs between $18,000 and $26,000.
Is there a particular program getting the kind of traction you want to see?
Vandine: Our apprenticeship program, which is part of the local IBW 379 program, has had a record number of applicants for the last two years, which shows the recruiting effort is starting to work. We’re getting good results, but just not the mass number we need. Part of it is just finding the money for additional classroom space and instructors. But we are getting some positive results out of that program. Some of the best electricians I’ve worked with in the past four to five years have come through the apprenticeship program.
For more information on a career as an electrician, visit www.rosendin.com/electrician.