Maine needs more electricians to meet its climate goals. Training them will be a challenge
As more Maine residents install heat pumps and solar panels, the demand grows for licensed electricians. That's reflected in the climate plan of Gov. Janet Mills, which includes a goal of doubling the clean energy workforce from 14,500 workers to 30,000 workers by the end of the decade.
But one major challenge in the push to build the state's clean energy workforce is how long it will take to train them all.
That work happens at places like the Capital Area Technical Center in Augusta, where on a recent winter day, 15 students arrive for Michael Parent's electrical technology class and quickly get to work.
This story is part of our series "Climate Driven: A deep dive into Maine's response, one county at a time."
"I'm just disconnecting the wires from the grounding busses, from the breakers and then the neutral busses... then pulling them through the conduit just to get them out," said 17-year-old Beau Clark of Richmond, who wants to become a master electrician and eventually do commercial work — maybe on solar panels.
This two-year course is full and has a waiting list of 20 students. Upon completion of the class, Parent says the students will be well on their way to becoming Journeyman electricians.
"They will have their OSHA 10 safety card, they will have all 576 education hours required to sit for their journeyman test, they'll need to take an additional 45-hour code test. They also get 1,000 working hours towards their journeyman license."
But even with all of that under their tool belt, they'll need up to 7,000 more hours of work experience before they qualify to take the journeyman's license exam.
As of 2021, the state department of labor says there were more than 3,500 licensed electricians in the workforce. Last year, a survey of the state's clean energy sector indicated that there are not enough electricians to meet the existing demand. Respondents said they sometimes have to bring in people from other states to complete projects, at a time when electricians are retiring at a faster rate than new ones are coming on board.
"We're in this position where we're growing electricians internally, we're well-positioned for it, but that said, we're seeing construction timelines that are more than two times what they have been historically....as a result of market demand and the speed at which we can scale to meet that demand," says Vaughan Woodruff, training director for South Portland-based Revision Energy, which installs heat pumps and solar arrays.
Woodruff says that out of necessity, the company has developed its own training center to double the number of electricians it will need to support the company's growing list of solar installations — 1,700 across New England in 2023 alone.
Atop a metal roof in the town of China, a Revision Energy crew is installing a 7.2 kw solar array.
Apprentice Yasmin Libardi says she has a college degree in psychology, but is now a solar installer earning a living and building a new career at the same time
"They have an apprenticeship program, so I can become a journeyperson after three or four years, but also I'm working, too, which is good," Libardi says.
Crew leader Ethan Duffany studied geography in college but says he wishes he'd learned about trade careers before he went off to school.
"I wanted to learn a trade, and get a license and eventually have the freedom and flexibility to live and work wherever I want and make a decent living doing it," Duffany says.
But even as new energy workers enter the labor pool, the real challenge is the time it takes to recruit and train fully qualified electricians. That's why the company is now doing outreach to middle school students, who will one day do the work that is needed for the state to reach its clean energy goals over the next two decades.
While the push to get more electricians into the workforce gains urgency, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that the number of employed electricians in the country will grow by 7% as of 2031, a rate that is only slightly higher than the average for all occupations.