reWorking Michigan: Training Tomorrow's Electricians
On this Labor Day from reWorking Michigan, our Monday report looks at the future of training in the skilled trades.
WKAR’s Scott Pohl spoke with Lawrence Hidalgo Junior, training director for the Lansing Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee.
It’s a joint program between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and NECA, the National Electrical Contractors Association. They work with young electricians to prepare them for careers in the field, both in labor and in management.
That training has evolved in recent years.
LAWRENCE HIDALGO JR.: Well, certainly, there’s always changes, and in our industry, we’ve had to include training with the alternative energies: wind and solar, fuel cells. Also, our apprenticeship program was originally three years when my dad went through, four years when I went through, and now it’s a five year program. So, we’ve had to include much more in our training, and also, we’ve included craft certification, making sure that we document that the apprentices can do the tasks required of an electrician. So, a lot of changes over the lasts ten, 15 years.
SCOTT POHL: With some of the training for green-based technologies, has that led to a need for retraining of people who’ve already had a career in the electrical trades?
HIDALGO: Well, for us in the Lansing area, it’s so new, so we haven’t had to see the retraining. Our apprenticeship has its classes out at LCC’s west campus, and we’ve been able to partner with LCC in the training of the wind and solar, which has been a great partnership.
POHL: We hear from time to time that businesses are looking for well trained, ready to hit the road and get started employees. Where are we in that scale? Do we have enough people already trained and in the pipeline for these jobs, or are we having to recruit people and train them to go into this field of work?
HIDALGO: Well, for us, we’re always training and we’re always taking in new apprentices, so there’s always trainees in the pipeline. Is there enough people trained? For right now, yes there is. Will there need to be more trained? Absolutely, as more wind and solar comes online.
WHO’S A GOOD FIT FOR THE ELECTRICAL FIELD?
POHL: What can we do, what should we do, to attract more people to go into this field?
HIDALGO: The public’s perception has always been that the skilled trades are for someone who can’t make it in college, but in fact, with electricians, they have to be able to learn at a college level. So, we need people that can do college work: math, reading skills, being able to think on their feet. So, this is an exciting field for people that do want to work with their hands, but have the ability to think logically and learn.
POHL: In the past, I think that going into the field of being an electrician has had a certain appeal for some people because they knew there would be steady work and that the pay would be pretty good. Is that still the reality for going into the field of electrical work?
HIDALGO: Well, certainly, there’s always the need for electricians. During this recession, certainly, construction had a downturn, but that’s coming back, and there will be more of a demand for electricians as we move through, like I said, the alternative energies. Also, building automation, as we make buildings smart, we’re going to need more electricians, and more training.
WHEN TO THINK ABOUT A CAREER AS AN ELECTRICIAN
POHL: When somebody is thinking about going into this line of work, when should they be thinking about it? Are you trying to attract high schoolers to start thinking about this? Is it something that comes up more post-high school?
HIDALGO: We actually start recruiting in junior high, letting them know the opportunities in the building trades, and for us, especially, the electrical. A lot of times, the junior high are more impressed with what we do in the electrical field, and now, they can start thinking about it in high school, and start finding out more about us.
POHL: Would you say things are looking up for this field?
HIDALGO: Oh, absolutely, yes. Each year over the last three years, the construction market has increased, and for the next, foreseeable future, we’re seeing more opportunities.
ReWorking Michigan examines our evolving economy, as the people of the Great Lake State explore new ways to make a living and build a future. A project of WKAR NewsRoom, WKAR-TV and WKAR Online.