To battle a critical shortage of professional electrical and technical workers, the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) is taking aim at every high school in the country with its new unprecedented recruiting campaign.

Although most young people today are wired into high tech, too few are exploring the technical side of electrical and electronic careers, said John Grau, chief executive officer of NECA. The U.S. desperately needs skilled electrical and technical workers to equip our buildings for the technology age. Students and guidance counselors need to take a closer look at these promising careers outside the traditional four-year college track.

As a starting point, NECA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) have blanketed 30,000 high school and vocational guidance counselors with Career Action Kits detailing the high-paying jobs and outstanding training opportunities available through their National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC) apprenticeships in electrical construction.

The kits contain career map posters, brochures, background materials and two interactive CD-ROMs. One CD-ROM covers the specifics of four different NJATC apprenticeships; the other catalogues 59 different occupations in the electrical and high-tech cabling industry.

For most students and guidance counselors, the NJATC apprenticeship program is a real eye-opener. The three- to five-year apprenticeships offer high school grads competitive pay and benefits while participants receive extensive on-the-job training and the opportunity to earn college credits.

NJATC apprentices typically earn between $80,000 and $150,000 over their full training period. Upon graduation, they can expect to enter the job market earning between $50,000 and $70,000 a year, depending on their chosen specialty and location.

NECA-IBEW officials said the sophisticated wiring and cabling systems needed to support the information technology needs of business and industry have generated unprecedented demand for professional electricians, telecom installer-technicians and power-line constructors.

Electricians are key to installing and integrating the electrical and communications systems of commercial and residential buildings with other infrastructure systems, while telecom installer/technicians bring computer, audio and video cabling through a building to the point of use. Power-line constructors ensure that electricity arrives safely and efficiently to the building.

With U.S. productivity increasingly tied to computer systems and e-technologies, the demand for professionals skilled in electrical and high-tech information systems will continue to explode, said IBEW International President Edwin Hill.

Over the next decade alone, NECA-IBEW officials estimate they will need to train more than 100,000 additional electrical and IT system installers to meet the wiring and cabling needs of business and industry.

The demand for electrical and IT professionals will be red hot for years to come, Hill said. Add that to the income, college credits and training benefits of an NJATC apprenticeship, and you've got a winning recipe for a well-paying professional career outside the typical four-year college track.

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