5 On Your Side

Skilled labor shortage: This alternative to college is critical for North Carolina, experts say

Posted November 26, 2019 5:50 p.m. EST
Updated November 26, 2019 6:26 p.m. EST

— A worker shortage means it could be harder to find a plumber, carpenter or electrician -- and their services may cost more.

In North Carolina, experts say a limited number of skilled trade workers is impacting the everyday services people require.

Of the 13,000 licensed electricians in the state, 70% are 51 or older. Only 10% are 40 or younger, and fewer than 1% -- just 135 electricians -- are 30 or younger.

When it comes to plumbers, numbers are similar. Of the 5,500 licensees in North Carolina, roughly 3% are under the age of 30.

Tim Norman, who leads the N.C. State Board of Examiners for electrical contractors, said those age statistics are scary.

"It's mind boggling, it's astonishing," he said. "We've got to do something, because we have a problem coming."

Norman said he thinks the shortage of young workers is the result of more high school graduates heading straight to college.

"I think that kids today are being pushed into going to a 4-year college," he said.

Adam Carrington, 40, is one of the few younger electricians in our state. He said his schedule is booked, and with so much new construction, the demand for workers like him is high.

"We need a good influx of people that are starting out," he said, adding that, due to the shortage, customers who need help with a small job are often left out.

"Without pay as a factor, still, we just don't have the time," Carrington said.

The price of hiring a high-demand worker isn't the only issue. Industry experts also worry about the potential effect the shortage is having on the quality and safety of electrical work that is performed.

Norman said recruitment is critical to address the problem. Workers are attending career days and visiting middle schools and high schools to spread the word that a 4-year apprenticeship can be an alternative to college.

"You can go through an apprenticeship program, and you can make close to $100,000 or more during those four years," Norman said.

Carrington agreed, saying he credits the apprenticeship for his success.

"I was 18 when I started and, within 10 years, I had my own business," he said. "I had three trucks with four employees on the road and I bought my first house."

In addition to electricians and plumbers, the shortage includes construction workers.

"When we talk to people who know nothing about the construction industry and tell them those numbers, their mouths just come open," Norman said. "If we don't have the labor pool, then there's only so much work we can do...and if there's only so much work we can do, then we won't have to be as competitive."

Carrington hopes such opportunities will inspire a new generation of workers before it's too late. His message to young people interested in skilled labor is simple.

"You can start almost with nothing, having no knowledge," he said. "With the right contractor, you can learn a lot of the job."

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