To decarbonize our economy, we need to electrify everything. That means installing millions of heat pumps, EV chargers, electric water heaters, and rooftop solar panels.

But there’s one big problem: finding the electricians to make it happen. Electricians across the country are flooded with demand – and just as demand is skyrocketing, the field is also continuing to age out.

This week, in a special collaboration with Grist, guest contributor Emily Pontecorvo tries to answer the question – where are all the electricians? And can we train enough to meet our climate goals?


Stephen Lacey  00:07

We talk a lot on this show about the movement to electrify everything, including how we heat our homes, how we get from place to place. And to reach our climate goals we need to install millions of heat pumps, electric water heaters, rooftop solar panels and EV charging ports. That means we need to find people who are trained to install them. But what happens if we can’t find them? This week, we’ve got a special collaboration with Grist and our guest contributor today is a  Grist staff writer, Emily Pontecorvo. She has been working to untangle this electrification puzzle in a feature for Grist. And she’s here with us now to explain it. Emily, welcome to the show.

Emily Pontecorvo  00:42

Hey, Stephen, thanks so much for having me on.

Stephen Lacey  00:45

Okay, so I’m very intrigued by this story. There’s obviously a lot of momentum around electrifying everything, but it appears there are some bottlenecks. So where does this story begin?

Emily Pontecorvo  00:55

So this past summer, I was in the Bay Area, which is like the birthplace of the movement to electrify everything. Berkeley, California was the first city in the country to ban gas in new buildings. And that was back in 2019. Now dozens of cities have followed. And so while I was there, I talked to a lot of homeowners who had tried to electrify some aspects of their home, like switch to heat pumps, or install an electric vehicle charger, homeowners like Chanpory Rith.

Chanpory Rith  01:23

My name is Chanpory. And I am a product designer at a company called Airtable. And I moved to Berkeley with my partner a couple of years ago, at the end of 2020, we were just kind of browsing and ended up finding this house that we fell in love with. And then came the joys and tribulations of homeownership.

Emily Pontecorvo  01:49

Chanpory is not like a diehard environmentalist or anything. But he told me he’s concerned about climate change, and his new home uses natural gas. And so he wants to eventually go fully electric. Before switching out his stove or anything, he decided to start with getting rooftop solar. And it wasn’t as straightforward as he hoped.

Chanpory Rith  02:08

It turned out that the the number of amps that we have in our house didn’t really support having solar panels. So that was why we were looking for an electrician,  to look at upgrading our electricity and I didn’t realize just how difficult that would be.

Emily Pontecorvo  02:24

This problem that Chanpory was facing is common. There’s this nonprofit, Rewiring America, and they estimate that something like 60 to 70% of homes in the US are going to need to upgrade their electrical panels in order to accommodate solar or new electric appliances. But when Chanpory started looking for an electrician…

Chanpory Rith  02:44

That was very eye-opening. They were basically all pre-booked out pretty far in advance. I think, I think one was several months. And so that was very, very disheartening.

Emily Pontecorvo  02:57

It wasn’t just that the electricians were busy, the entire process just felt kind of backward.

Chanpory Rith  03:03

It’s just hilarious, because it just felt like, you know, trying to get your kid into a nice kindergarten, or preschool, where you like, have to be interviewed, and do a lot of things just to get on the radar of these electricians.

Stephen Lacey  03:25

Oh, man, I can completely relate to this. So I moved into a new older house about a year ago. And over the last year, we have been going through a lot of upgrades. We’re re-insulating the house. We’re completely rewiring the house. We’ve added heat pumps. We’ve replaced all the old windows. And so I’ve dealt with a lot of different kinds of contractors. And it’s been really hard to set up the work because everybody is super busy. They’re coming in trying to assess whether the project is worth it. And I found an electrician who I really love who’s helped me through this process, but they are so busy. It’s really hard to get on their schedule. So I can definitely relate to how tough it is to find the right electrician.

Emily Pontecorvo  04:09

Yeah, and mean and I talked to a bunch of homeowners just like you just like temporary all over the country who have had this experience. And that’s what this sort of baseline demand for electricians that we have today. I mean, the switch to heat pumps and EVs has barely even started,

Stephen Lacey  04:26

Right. And this switch is very urgent. Transportation is almost a third of US carbon emissions and burning fossil fuels at home is another 10%.

Emily Pontecorvo  04:34

I mean, and now we have a chance to actually cut those emissions because of technological advancements and new incentive through the Inflation Reduction Act that was just passed. There’s billions of dollars in rebates to help people make the switch.

Stephen Lacey  04:47

So the table is set for widespread electrification. But…

Emily Pontecorvo  04:51

It just won’t be possible without more people trained to do this work.

Stephen Lacey  04:57

This is The Carbon Copy. I’m Stephen Lacey.

Emily Pontecorvo  04:59

Hi. I’m Emily Pontecorvo. And this week we’re asking, Why are electricians so hard to find? And how do we build up the workforce to electrify everything? So I didn’t just hear about this problem from homeowners. I also spoke to a bunch of contractors who let me just say they were not easy to get a hold of. They are truly swamped. But I met this guy Borin Reyes.

Borin Reyes  05:33

So my name is Borin Reyes, and I’m currently CEO of Boyes Electric Incorporated. We currently have two locations, one in Oakland, and one in Sacramento.

Emily Pontecorvo  05:44

Borin is young, he’s only 28. He grew up in Guatemala and came to California when he was a teenager. And he first got introduced to electrical work in high school, his dad was a general contractor, and Borin would come to help out on jobs over the summer. At one point, this electrician that his dad worked with need an extra hand. And so Borin started working for that guy, and it just set him on this whole new path. When I was about to graduate from high school, I decided that I wanted to do that for a living. Plus, you know, back then I was kind of thinking, you know, I want to make money quick was the easiest way for me to make money quick and eventually move out of the house. It was mostly about the money at first, but Borin came to really like the work, too.

Borin Reyes  06:29

What I really, really like is, you really have to be focused on it, because literally it is the safety. And also you have to be hands-on most of the time. And also like solving problems, putting pieces together. What type of system am I gonna install? How am I going to be running this wire? How am I gonna run this conduit? You know why the customer is overloading the circuit, there are so many things that go with that. And that’s why I fell in love.

Emily Pontecorvo  07:03

These days, Borin is busy. He’s got 12 technicians at his company, and he can barely keep up with demand.

Borin Reyes  07:10

If we’re super busy, and then we don’t do any advertising, if it’s organic, we’re getting a minimum of three to four calls a day. If we do advertise we get up to 15 to 20 calls a day. It’s crazy, because customers are literally looking for electricians every single day. And they know before, you know we’re able to get to an emergency right away. No, we cannot. So we’re not taking emergency calls anymore, because we don’t have the manpower.

Emily Pontecorvo  07:40

Part of the reason he’s not taking emergency calls anymore is because he’s got this new specialty. About a year ago, born entered a partnership with this company called QMerit. They sent him new electric vehicle owners who needed someone to install their chargers. And so now he’s doing a lot of that kind of work. He says he’s usually booked up like three weeks to a month in advance. I asked him if he could expand his team to take on more jobs. And he said it just wasn’t possible right now.

Borin Reyes  08:06

Because it’s not just a matter of “hey, yeah, let me hire people,” and then because you have to go with them through training. And then so it might take you a month to two months for them to be ready to finally go out on the field and know how to interact with customers. And then they will not know how to execute the job right away, it might take them a year. So now, it’s going to take a lot of our resources to be focused on these jobs. Like for example, we should get it down, let’s say within two days, and then now it’s taken three days, because my lead technician is taking the time to teach them on their field, which is the best way to learn. But literally taking time out of it, and it’s cutting profits. It’s just really complicated.

Emily Pontecorvo  08:51

So is it like, there’s nobody out there? Who if you were just like looking for an experienced electrician? There’s nobody out there that you could hire. There’s only people that are basically new to the field.

Borin Reyes  09:03

That is correct. That is correct. With all the all the people that currently know how to do the work, they’re currently busy. I mean, they’re currently taken by other companies. And now they’re getting paid really, really good.

Stephen Lacey  09:20

Okay, so let me get this straight. We’ve got a lot of homeowners who want to electrify, but they can’t find electrical contractors. We’ve got contractors who want to ride this electrification wave, they see it as a chance to grow and take on more jobs, but they can’t find electricians to hire. So why don’t we have more people coming in for these jobs that are in demand and pretty high paying?

Emily Pontecorvo  09:40

It’s a great question, and it’s one that I asked pretty much everyone I spoke with. A lot of people blame the fact that we don’t really push vocational education in high school in the US anymore. You know, there’s just been this push toward everyone going to four year colleges. Here’s Panama Bartholomy. He’s one of the experts that I spoke with and he is the executive director of this not nonprofit called the Building Decarbonisation Coalition.

Panama Batholomy  10:03

We’re seeing a graying of, of the workforce and we’re seeing all these people that have spent their career learning the intricacies of how to install HVAC correctly, how to install water heaters correctly, etc. And they’re graying out. You know, the average age is 55 right now for an a track installer or a plumber. I think the one of the big questions is really like do millennials and Zoomers see the see a career for themselves in crawlspaces in attics doing this work? I mean, it’s some good work, but we don’t encourage people to go into the trades in this country. You know, it’s you should be going to four-year college and going learning C++ programming, not working in in the trades.

Stephen Lacey  10:55

This right here is such an important point because we need more people to do the work of decarbonisation, and that means more boots on the ground jobs. And we’re seeing an ageing workforce across the trades in the utility space, in electrical contracting, and plumbing. And so we need to bring in younger workers, and we need more vocational opportunities. So as I’ve done a lot of work on our house, I’ve used that as an opportunity to teach our three year old about how important electricians plumbers and builders are, and how they’re doing the most foundational work in our society. So this is partly a cultural problem. We need people to be able to see this career as an option. When they’re young. We just need to we just need to value it more as a society.

Emily Pontecorvo  11:42

Yeah, totally. I mean, I feel the same way. I didn’t have any vocational education opportunities in my high school. And let’s not forget that you can make pretty good money doing this. The median salary for an electrician in the Bay Area is about $90,000. And a lot of people make six figures.

Stephen Lacey  12:00

Sign me up. But really, if I wanted to transition my career and suddenly become an electrician, how would I do it?

Emily Pontecorvo  12:09

Well, so I learned in reporting the story that there are many different paths into the field. For one, you can apply to a union apprenticeship program. Those are free and they offer paid on the job training. It’s pretty nice, but there’s a test to get in and there’s limited spots. So some people go a different route. They start by finding a licensed contractor like Borin who’s willing to take them on and train them in the field. And then many community colleges also offer training programs. But this I found is where there’s another bottleneck in this whole story.

Stephen Lacey  12:42

Yeah, we talked earlier about this obsession we have as a country with four-year degrees. So I’m guessing on the flip side, that means that underfunding community colleges.

Emily Pontecorvo  12:51

Yeah, so those community college programs, they aren’t exactly well funded. But the other problem is, it can be really hard for them to find people to teach the classes, in part because of the shortage of electricians in the Bay Area, this birthplace of electrify everything. The place to take electrical training classes is a school called Laney College. The program there almost collapsed when one of the teachers retired this year.

Stephen Lacey  13:17

Before we get to it, we’re gonna take a very quick break. And then when we come back, we’ll hear about what happened at Laney College and then explore some solutions to this cascading problem.

Emily Pontecorvo  13:38

Should we go on to your boat?

David Pitt  13:41

Yeah, that’ll be the quieter place to be.

Emily Pontecorvo  13:43

Let me introduce you to David Pitt.

David Pitt  13:45

It’ll still probably be kind of noisy. So I apologize. We’ll see. We’ll see how it goes.

Emily Pontecorvo  13:50

Okay, that’s okay. It’ll create a little atmosphere. I met him on this old sailboat in the Oakland Marina back in July. He uses it as an office. And I wanted to talk to him because he was in the middle of finishing the electrical program at Laney College, he got into electric work almost by accident.

David Pitt  14:11

At one point when I was just working various cash gigs, I was doing TaskRabbit and I was tutoring people and just things I could get quick cash. And I would just travel and was kind of a bum and my mid 20s. And then at some point, a friend of mine was like, “Hey, I saw the sign. You can volunteer to install solar on a rooftop. Check it out. You might like that kind of thing.”

Emily Pontecorvo  14:38

He liked it so much that he kept going back. He ended up getting a job with the company. But he soon realized that in order to progress in this career to make more money and do more interesting aspects of the work. He needed to get certified as an electrician.

David Pitt  14:52

This is something I can really sink my teeth into. It’s got a clear career path, which I couldn’t say for some other gigs I was doing. It’s like, okay, you’re going to learn this skill, and then learn to manage your own business. And then the sky’s kind of the limit in a way.

Emily Pontecorvo  15:12

So David enrolled in the electrical training program at Laney College, and when I talked to him, he only had about three classes left. But things have started to go south, there is this one teacher who is covering like six classes per semester, and kind of holding the whole program together and she retired. The deans were having a lot of trouble finding anyone to replace her. Suddenly, they weren’t sure if the school was even going to be able to offer the classes that David needed to finish.

David Pitt  15:39

I guess the worst case is Laney collapses. And I would look at other community colleges and push it back six months and probably be some paperwork nightmare of transferring credits, and it’d be a whole mess. But yeah, those rooms are packed too. I mean, the classes had 40 students in them, the Zoom meetings are just jam packed a lot. A lot of people are trying to get this training.

Emily Pontecorvo  16:08

I ended up speaking to the dean at Laney College over the summer. Her name is Alejandria Tomas. And she was definitely really stressed about this.

Alejandria Tomas  16:17

So when I started in this job on in February of 2021, I think my third day on the job, I was already told that we have an issue and finding faculty members to teach in the EET department,

Emily Pontecorvo  16:33

EET stands for Electrical and Electronics Technology.

Alejandria Tomas  16:37

It’s been a known fact that a lot of our faculty members are doing our teaching more classes than than ideal.

Emily Pontecorvo  16:45

How did you feel when you heard that you’re losing this teacher?

Alejandria Tomas  16:49

It was pretty, it was a pretty, pretty scary moment for me, because I know that there’s a lot of hunger from students to learn this materials. And I know that there’s a lot of classes that we’re offering. So for me to, to lose a faculty member who’s probably teaching five or six classes is pretty difficult. So it was a, it was a panic moment. This is this is an issue for a lot of trade skills, disciplines. And in a sense that employees usually earn more when they work in the field than than they are in teaching. So it’s hard to recruit for faculty members to our area. I think it’s just made worse in EET because there’s a shortage of electricians in the Bay Area.

Emily Pontecorvo  17:40

By the fall, she still hadn’t found a replacement.

Stephen Lacey  17:43

Let’s take a pause here for a second. I just need to get my head straight. So homeowners are having trouble getting electrification projects done because contractors are booked up. Contractors can’t take on more clients because they can’t hire. There’s not enough trained electricians. And people who want to become electricians are having trouble getting through the training because the places where they’re supposed to be learning how to become electricians can’t find electricians to teach. Am I getting this right?

Emily Pontecorvo  18:11

More or less

Stephen Lacey  18:12

Okay, so this is a giant puzzle. Seems very complicated. How do we piece it together?

Emily Pontecorvo  18:18

So there are a number of different solutions I want to walk you through. And you know, the first one is the story. You just heard about Laney College, I think that points to a need for increased funding for community colleges so they can hire more faculty and pay them more money.

Stephen Lacey  18:33

What about the union path? We talked about that earlier? Don’t the unions train people as well, like through the apprenticeship programs?

Emily Pontecorvo  18:40

That’s another really interesting point. So the unions have this robust training pipeline, they offer free classes, paid apprenticeships, and they can offer those because of union dues. But they can only admit so many people. And so I spoke to labor advocates who think we need to strengthen the unions, right now, union electricians, they don’t really do that much work on houses, because they’re undercut by non-union electricians who can pay their workers less. And I was told that if some of the public funding that was coming out for electrification had labor standards attached to it, that that could sort of level the playing field for the unions and help them compete for those jobs. And then they could train more workers.

Stephen Lacey  19:20

And what about people like Borin at the top of the show? He was talking about how he was doing some work or training to, right?

Emily Pontecorvo  19:26

Right. And so I heard from a lot of people that solving this also really hinges on involvement from people like Borin. And that’s partly because, you know, they already know how to do this work. They’re the people that will ultimately hire these workers. The obstacle there, as Borin talked about, is that training people eats into his profits. That’s part of the reason he can’t hire and grow right now, Panama Bartholomy, who you heard from earlier, he told me that one way to solve this issue might be to provide funding for this kind of training. Like for example, the Inflation Reduction Act, it has funding for state energy offices to do workforce development. And some of that could be used to pay, let’s say, half or three quarters of the wages of a trainee so that contractors like boring can afford to take them on.

Stephen Lacey  20:11

I am really curious about what contractors are saying about this carbon-free tech approach. Overall, you’ve got people like Borin who are super on it. He’s got this partnership with an EV charger installation company. But in my experience in talking to my electrician, for example, who’s been really great, but also pretty skeptical of whole-home electrification. It seems like there is a hesitancy among some of the old school contractors about electrifying homes entirely or about EV chargers and heat pumps. So what is the spectrum of reactions that you’re hearing?

Emily Pontecorvo  20:45

Yeah, I mean, I also heard a lot of stories about this. I heard homeowners talk about their contractors who told them, like you’re gonna need natural gas backup for your heating system. Or I also talked to some contractors who are kind of skeptical of electrification. But I think this hesitancy is something that California is really working on. I heard about this program called Tech Clean California. And a big part of the program involves training contractors on how to install heat pumps and other technologies. And so they’re giving them information about not just you know, how to install them, but what incentives are available and how to like sell them to customers. And so far, they’ve trained about 600 contractors. Here’s Panama Bartholomy talking about it.

Panama Batholomy  21:30

And so there’s a cadre of expert installers that are part of the tech team that are running different cohorts of installers through full on training programs about not just, you know, how to install this stuff, but actually, like, why they should care that, here’s all the climate stuff, sure. But also, here’s all the policy stuff, like the writing’s on the wall that this is coming. And you better get ready for it. California is going to be banning this stuff in seven years. So start the transition now when there’s a lot of money and incentives going.

Stephen Lacey  22:08

Okay, so running down the list, we’ve got more funding for community colleges, we want to pay contractors to take on trainees, potentially unionizing the work could help. And then you want to make sure contractors actually know how to install carbon-free technologies. Is that the list? Anything else?

Emily Pontecorvo  22:28

Well, I feel like we still haven’t really talked about the problem that seems to be at the heart of this issue. How can we inspire more people to want to become electricians in the first place? When I asked for in this question, he had an answer right away.

Borin Reyes  22:43

Showing how much money they can make. That is just a key, because they can make just as much as an engineer, they can make more than a teacher. They can make more than, you know, a person that will spend three or four years in college, and they don’t see that.

Stephen Lacey  23:05

Yeah, this is exactly what we talked about earlier. This is a cultural problem. It’s a marketing problem for the profession.

Emily Pontecorvo  23:12

Yeah, I mean, the whole profession, give us some good PR, I spoke to this one expert who works on workforce development. She’s at the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and her name is Laure-Jeanne Davignon. One thing that they’re trying to do over there is create resources for clean energy careers for schools and guidance counselors. And she was really enthusiastic about developing some kind of marketing campaign.

Laure-Jeanne Davignon  23:34

Something that we very much we, the alliance specifically, would like to do is some kind of outreach campaign, you know, talking about energy heroes or some other messaging that resonates with people, and just conveying that there are a range of jobs. That’s the kind of thing we really need to start to remove the stigma from these trade jobs, and it could even be trades-focused, I don’t care. And I have focused on clean energy. I think we’ll have more luck if it does. You know, is the construction jobs sexy enough for someone or do they also want you know, do they want to be saving the world?

Stephen Lacey  24:17

I love it. I can imagine these World War II era posters saying become an electrician for the planet.

Emily Pontecorvo  24:24

Yes, totally. That’s right. Tell your kids.

Stephen Lacey  24:27

Emily, thank you so much for joining us and for your excellent reporting on this story.

Emily Pontecorvo  24:31

Thanks for having me.

Stephen Lacey  24:34

Emily Pontecorvo is a staff writer at Grist. Thank you so much to her and to Grist for their collaboration. Grist has a magazine dedicated to climate justice and solutions and you can go to to read Emily’s feature. Read the full article here:

The Carbon Copy is supported by FischTank PR, a public relations, strategic messaging, and social media agency dedicated to elevating the work of climate and clean energy companies. Learn more about FischTank’s approach to cleantech and their services:

The Carbon Copy is supported by Scale Microgrids, the distributed energy company dedicated to transforming the way modern energy infrastructure is designed, constructed, and financed. Distributed generation can be complex. Scale makes it easy. Learn more:

Learn more about your ad choices. Visit