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Maryland High School
Teaches JATC Curriculum

At the Local 307 training school in Cumberland, Maryland, some of the best first-year apprentices enter with two years of key wiring experience, thanks to a local technical high school curriculum that offers the best electrical construction instruction while steering them down the path of IBEW membership.

Allegany County’s technical/vocational school is one of the first in the United States to adopt an IBEW curriculum. The two-year course is taught by Local 307 member Ed Taylor.

"I’m giving back something to the community and I’m spreading the union word," said Taylor, a 34-year IBEW member and certified instructor at the Center for Career and Technology in Cumberland. "Whenever I start talking about what it takes to be successful, that’s what I push."

Taylor’s 30 students are juniors and seniors recruited from the county’s four high schools. Once seen as the dumping ground for poor-performing students, the vocational school has benefited from high-quality programs like Taylor’s.

When students enter Taylor’s class as juniors, they get the basic introduction to electrical construction, with an emphasis on residential wiring. Because of the trade’s required proficiency in communications and basic math, extra reading and algebra lessons supplement the junior year lessons, Taylor said. At the end of the year, they take the Local 307 NJATC aptitude exam, the same one given any potential IBEW recruit before acceptance into the JATC program. Approximately 40 percent pass the test.

The following year, those who pass enter advanced electric, or what has become known as the "union program," which uses the first-year apprenticeship curriculum. If they finish that year successfully, they win an interview at the Local 307 JATC. They enter as second-year apprentices—if they are ultimately accepted into the program—but still have to complete the school’s requirement of 8,000 hours on the job. Winning a slot as an apprentice is often difficult because of the increasingly competitive nature of the program and the limited number of openings.

The two years of high school coursework also entitles the students to eight hours of college credit toward an associate’s (two-year) degree in applied science. And Taylor said the high school leg-up given the students increases their chances of success in the IBEW.

"If I hadn’t had my apprenticeship, I don’t know where I’d be right now," Taylor said. "And if I give the local good apprentices who are going to stick with the trade, that’s all the thanks I need."

The four-year-old high school/IBEW tie-in is a product of Local 307 Training Director Jim Robertson’s lobbying the school board. "They embraced it wholeheartedly," Robertson said. "This is another way for the students to be put to work in their counties. They are available to work here and they also have the option of going out of town."

Today, seven apprentices in the Local 307 training program are Tayor’s former students.

"These kids coming from the career center are among the top 15 or 20 percent in their classes," Robertson said. "They rank high in training aptitude and work ethic and safety. It’s what you’re looking for in an IBEW apprentice, without a doubt."

The local’s jurisdiction spreads across five counties in western Maryland and West Virginia and Robertson considers it part of his job to visit all of the schools in the area. While he is attempting to convince other counties to adopt the IBEW curriculum, he does not limit himself to secondary schools. Training school representatives visit job fairs and after school programs, showing films about becoming a union electrician and emphasizing the importance of math and English.

"The payoff is making people aware of what a union construction worker does and to show them we are an educated body," Robertson said. "We’re working with the community to raise the bar in general."

On a recent visit to Taylor’s class, Robertson said a junior reminded him of his visit to her 10th grade class and said: "You said that ladies can do the same work as men. Well, here I am." Robertson said, "There are people out there who are listening and there are better people coming in through the program."

That young woman, Taylor said, is an A student as well as a leader with plans to pursue a career through the apprenticeship program.

Union crafts are not alone in recognizing the value of secondary technical schools for recruiting the next generation of electrical workers. Nonunion electrical contractors sponsor a statewide annual skills competition Taylor’s students attend each spring. At the competition last March, Taylor said his students were plied with business cards and at least one job offer from the nonunion contractors. The nonunion Associated Builders and Contractors reportedly makes millions selling its own training materials to public schools, said National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee Executive Director A.J. Pearson.

"There’s not much meat in the ABC program," Pearson said. "They might as well use our materials."

Pearson said there are few public schools using the NJATC curriculum. "If you’ve got the right person teaching, it’s a good way to promote the IBEW," he said.

Aaron Ranker, 17, is a senior in Taylor’s class who said he is pursuing his goal of becoming a journeyman wireman and eventually owning his own business. This summer he has a job lined up doing residential wiring. But if he can get in, he is heading for the Local 307 training school. "The union has more benefits and better job opportunities, things like that," he said.


May 2004 IBEW Journal