June 2009

Panama, IBEW Sign Training Agreement for Panama Canal Expansion

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A delegation of Panamanian government officials came to Washington, D.C., in April to sign a training agreement with the IBEW and the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee to help meet the needs of a new generation of electricians at home.

The agreement makes available the educational resources of the NJATC to the Panamanian government's job-training authority, INADEH, to assist it with the development of its own electrical training program.

The Panama Canal, one of the most ambitious engineering projects in the world, is undergoing an expansion that will create a new water lane along the canal to accommodate increased traffic.

The expansion, the largest construction project in Panama since the canal's construction in the early 20th century, will require thousands of trained electricians, and the government wants to make sure that the majority of work will be done by Panamanian citizens.

The new two-mile lock, which officially began construction in 2007, is expected to cost more than $5 billion and could begin operations as early as 2014.

"We are expecting to see growth in all crafts, particularly electrical construction," said Ivette Millan from the Panama Canal Authority.

During their visit to Washington D.C., the delegation from INADEH and the Panama Canal Authority toured the headquarters of the NJATC and Washington, D.C., Local 26's training facility.

Representatives from the NJATC gave a two-hour presentation to the delegation on the committee's apprenticeship curriculum and educational resources.

"I'm very impressed with the technology and the curriculum you have here," said Clarissa Sinisterra, INADEH's electrical coordinator. I'm also impressed with the learning materials that you provide your students. It's good that your training is so hands on and practical and I look forward to implementing it in Panama."

The connection between the Panama Canal and the IBEW goes back to its construction, which began in 1904. "Our members helped build the canal," said Fifth District Vice President Joseph Davis. "And many stayed to maintain it."

Most members were U.S. citizens who worked in the Canal Zone, which was owned by the U.S. government until 1999.

Members of Balboa, Panama, Local 397, which represents maintenance electricians at the canal, are hopeful that the new agreement will lead to future growth among Panamanians as the expansion project progresses. "It's potentially an opportunity to grow the IBEW by thousands here," said Local 397 Business Manager Felicia V. Ng K.

"It says a lot about our commitment to professionalism and training that when Panama was faced with its biggest construction project in nearly a century, it turned to the IBEW for help," said International President Edwin D. Hill.

IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill greets Elberto Cobos, labor representative to INADEH, Panama's job training authority. He was part of the Panamanian delegation that included INADEH's Training Director Juan Planells, left, the Panama Canal Authority's Ivette Millan and Balboa, Panama, Local 397 Business Manager Felicia V. Ng K.