Workforce Trends: Creating Qualified Jobseekers, Part 1

Research conducted by Fluke and interviews with leading trainers point to the importance of extensive hands-on training to meet employers’ needs for industrial technicians.



After a considerable drop in job opportunities through the depths of the recession, the outlook for technical jobs has turned positive. According to The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook 2012-2013, growth in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and electrical jobs will grow at two to three times the average growth forecasted, and industrial plant technician jobs will grow at the average rate of 11 percent.

While that is a positive trend in the marketplace, employers report a shortage of qualified candidates to fill entry-level jobs. 85 percent say it is difficult to very difficult to find entry-level workers with acceptable skills — for industrial positions that number grows to 93 percent. More than half of the employers surveyed said job candidates lack enough years of on-the-job experience to effectively perform in their positions.

And while the majority report that their new hires have basic electrical test tool knowledge, they are looking for job candidates with more hands-on experience, troubleshooting expertise and soft skills like problem-solving abilities. What does the opportunity look like then for a fresh graduate with school-level training, if employers only have room on their teams for experienced candidates?

Exacerbating the situation is the quickening pace of baby boomer professionals retiring. While there is contradictory evidence of how quickly that attrition is happening, some industries are having difficulty just maintaining the current number of people in jobs. The Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) says its industry currently needs 27,000 new workers each year just to replace those who retire.

These trends point to a significant opportunity to educate and train a new crop of industrial, electrical and HVAC professionals — an opportunity universities, unions and training centers are jumping on and tailoring to the needs of employers. The programs of those surveyed require an average of 2,117 hours (just over one work year) of hands-on experience to graduate from their programs, and some require considerably more. 61 percent said their program included on-the-job training and 97 percent say their programs include hands-on training with electrical test tools.

The number of potential new hires is increasing as well. 53 percent of the educators polled said enrollment in their programs has increased over the past five years.


There’s also recognition of the need for continuing education. 90 percent of workers surveyed say the definition of their jobs is broader than when they started, so continuous learning has become a necessity. While the majority of respondents had participated in accredited continuing education, with 62 percent sponsored or paid for by their employers, they reported that on-the-job mentoring had not increased, indicating a possible opportunity for more organized forms of in-house knowledge transfer.

On the link between test tool skills and employability, 82 percent of respondents said test tool knowledge was more important now than it was when they entered the field. And while 55 percent of professionals polled indicated they were satisfied with their current skill level with test tools, 54 percent said it would help them to learn more.

Marketable skills-training must take place both on the job and at school. For employers to find the level of quality they seek, they may need to take a more active role in creating apprentice-style programs, designed to create both breadth and depth of knowledge, as well as increase continuing education programs to help the existing workforce adapt to and take advantage of changes in technology.

Job Markets Expected To Grow

According to The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook 2012-2013, growth in HVAC jobs is forecast to grow at 34 percent — three times the average predicted occupational growth rate. Electrician jobs are forecast to grow at a 23 percent rate, while industrial plant maintenance technician jobs are forecast to grow at the study’s average of 11 percent.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics study, because of the growing complexity of HVAC systems, “employers generally prefer applicants with post-secondary education or those who have completed a formal apprenticeship.” The growth in electrician jobs is predicted because “homes and businesses require more wiring than ever before, and electricians will be needed to install the necessary components.”

Workforce Creeping toward Retirement

According to the Fluke Corp. 2012 Workforce Study, 90 percent of workers surveyed say the definition of their jobs is broader than when they started. 80 percent say test tool knowledge is more important than it used to be and 54 percent say it would help them to learn more about test tools. Of those respondents, 58 percent would like to learn more about advanced meter functions.

55 percent have been in their current profession more than 20 years, and 68 percent have been in it 15 years or longer. Yet, retirement is still a ways off. Of those surveyed, 77 percent are more than five years away from retirement.

Please tune into the Chemical Equipment Daily for part two of this two-part series. What’s your take? Please feel free to comment below! For more information, please visit