Changes coming for Canada’s electrical industry

05/10/2017
by Elber Gamboa

The electrical trade industry in Canada has been predicted to undergo some major changes in the coming years.

Many of those currently working in the sector have been nearing retirement but there will not be enough younger workers to take over the work load and experts have been anticipating a labour shortage in the market.

There has also been a shift in electrical sources that has demanded change for contractors. A move to more sustainable sources has required electricians to adapt to greener technologies.

However, for those in the industry these changes only present opportunities to grow and transform how the modern electrical sector functions.

THE STATISTICS

The average tradesperson in Canada is between 40 and 50 years old, which is a bit older than it was in the 1980s. The average age of a tradespersons in the 1980s was 36 years.

Statistics Canada has previously estimated there were 86,000 electricians in the country, according to the Globe and Mail. About 15 per cent of those were self employed and only 1,600 were women.

The income outlook for those in the industry has remained good. On average, skilled tradespeople earn $29.47 an hour and the average salary for an electrician is $52,000-$70,000 a year.

In a look at how electrical tradespeople have been paid among the provinces, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Alberta came out on top. In 2016 the average salary in Saskatchewan was $78,363, while in BC for the same year it was $73,741 and Alberta electrical contractors were earning about $69,858.

Most often the larger the company the better the pay for electrical contractors. In 2016 companies with 2,000-4,999 employees were paying their employees the most at $88,437. Companies with 200-599 employees were paying their contractors $87,246 and companies with 50-199 employees were paying, on average, $78,750. However, companies that employ 5,000-19,999 employees only paid their contractors $61, 878.

GETTING STARTED AS AN ELECTRICAL TRADESPERSON

There have been two primary areas of specialization in the Canadian electrical industry. Industrial electricians usually work at industrial facilities like hydroelectric dams while a construction electrician works on all parts of the electrical system in buildings.

To begin a career in the industry there needs to be some time spent as an apprentice, according to an article in the Globe and Mail. Depending on the province this can be several hundred or even thousands of hours. After completing the hours, the apprentice then needs to write an exam to become a journeyperson electrician.

However, before anyone can become an apprentice they need to have some previous experience, which has been where a pre-apprenticeship program comes in. There are several colleges across Canada that help prepare aspiring electricians for their apprenticeship.

Some of the essential skills identified by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) were reading, document use and numeracy. There has also been a demand for adaptability to technology as the electrical workplace undergoes changes.

OVERVIEW OF CANADIAN INDUSTRY

In a report the IBEW estimated there were 28,000 members that worked in the Canadian electrical construction sector. They also estimated there were 16,500 workers in the utility sector.

However, Canada has still been expected to be short about a million tradespeople by 2020. In fact, in a recent study seven out of 10 electricians have expressed concern about the lack of skilled tradespeople.

In an effort to fix the problem many in the industry have been volunteering their time to teach those interested in becoming electrical workers. Of those surveyed 46 per cent stated they have helped train or mentor apprentices or students.

Most electrical workers have said that more on the job training would help younger workers gain the skills they need to be successful. Five out of six surveyed cited their own workplace training as the best preparation for their career.

In their report, the IBEW said that the electrical trade was one of life-long learning and there needs to be a willingness and capability demonstrated in the worker that they will continue to learn and adapt to changes.

FUTURE

Recently, there have been calls to update the electrical infrastructure across the county, in particular to change it to more sustainable sources of electricity including solar, wind or tidal power, among others. Yet a report by the Canadian Electricity Association estimated that three-quarters of the county’s electricity was from non-emitting sources.

That could be attributed to how several companies in the industry have moved towards more green power, including in their own operations.

Five electrical industry companies have been recognized as some of Canada’s Greenest Employers. These included Alectra Inc, which was awarded for its recycling, carpooling and alternative energy source efforts.

One the west coast, BC Hydro was credited for its efforts to promote energy conservation, its support of cycling and carpool as methods of transportation as well as a team of green leaders who meet each year to discuss strategies.

Manitoba Hydro was acknowledged for its promotion of cycling and use of alternative energy sources.

Siemens Canada was applauded for its green efforts in its head office as well as its support of alternative energy products including electrical cars.

Veridian Corporation was also awarded as well for its green efforts at its head office building as well as its programs to encourage employees to be more green including interest-free loans they can use to buy energy efficient appliances or vehicles.

CONCLUSION

There have been some exciting changes and challenges to Canada’s electrical industry including a move to more green sources of electricity.

As well, many of the skilled tradespeople will be retiring from the industry in the next few years. Experts have been anticipating a big labour shortage in the industry. However, there have been some plans to try and lessen the problem including having the skilled workers train aspiring electricians.

Although there will be changes for Canada’s electrical trade industry the outlook for those looking to get into the sector is positive.

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