The Electrical Worker online
November 2015

IBEW Training Centers Receive Grant Windfall
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Steve Anderson calls the grant the Electrical Training Alliance received from the Department of Labor a surprise—albeit a pleasant, $4.8 million one.

"We've applied for these before and never got anything," said Anderson, who has been with the Alliance for more than 20 years and now serves as the director of outside line curriculum and training. "It's just been a very hard thing."

Based in Bowie, Maryland, the Alliance is a training partnership between IBEW local unions and the National Electrical Contractors Association. Formerly known as the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee, the labor department announced in early September it would receive the grant as part of $175 million awarded to 46 public-private apprentice training programs.

The grant requires the enrollment of at least 200 new apprentices in the first year and 1,000 during a five-year period, although Anderson expects it to be more than that. All will be trained as inside wiremen. The target population is traditionally underserved ones: young men, women, ethnic minorities and military veterans, which also likely made the application attractive to labor department officials.

To enhance retention, all will start with a 10-week pre-apprenticeship that will include classroom training and on-the-job exposure.

"The Obama administration has put a lot of emphasis on apprenticeship programs," Anderson said. "It looks like the administration put a lot of pressure on the Department of Labor to follow through on those plans."

For Anderson, the grant is a recognition that the federal government understands the IBEW's apprenticeship program is just as valuable as college or university education. The timing is right, too. The demand for construction trades workers is rebounding after being depressed for several years following the economic collapse in 2008.

"For years, we talked about how we didn't need and didn't use government funds," he said. "We funded our own training programs and it worked that way for decades.

"But at the same time, the federal government was sending those funds to our competitors. It's nice that at this particular time, we're going to have significant, additional resources to get the right people to come into the trades."

Added Alliance Executive Director Todd Stafford: "We're trying to increase that recruiting pool and the available pool of apprentices. The larger the applicant pool, the better the quality of the applicants."

Gary Polulak, director of the Alliance's training center in Detroit, has served on a local school board in the area. For years, he's sought more young people for the trades.

"The new program is a big step toward doing just that," Polulak said. "Instructors will be able to quickly evaluate during the pre-apprenticeship program if an applicant has adequate math and reading skills comprehension," he said. The required safety and CPR testing also will be provided before applicants begin five-year apprenticeships.

"Trying to figure out a way to entice good candidates to our apprenticeship program has kind of been a bucket list item for me," he said.

Polulak expects the response to be strong in Detroit, one of the 13 training sites to implement the program in 2016.

"I can guarantee you that this is an excellent way to have a stronger presence in your community," he said. "You're giving people a very good opportunity at a trade."

Besides Michigan, the program will be rolled out at training centers in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas during the first year. Stafford said the plan is to eventually extend it to all 285 training centers across the country.

"The economy has given us an opportunity to put people to work immediately," Anderson said.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), whose district includes the Alliance headquarters, noted the IBEW and its signatory contractors have trained nearly 350,000 workers since the model was conceived 70 years ago.

"This funding will help the Alliance continue its success at producing highly skilled electrical workers in our state," Hoyer said in a statement. "These investments will help make the workforce in Maryland and our country competitive."


The Electrical Training Alliance received a $4.8 million grant to pay for apprenticeships for traditionally underserved groups, such as ethnic minorities and young men.

Photo credit: Chicago Local 134 and NECA Chicago


'I can guarantee you that this is an excellent way to have a stronger presence in your community. You're giving people a very good opportunity at a trade.'

– Gary Polulak, director of Electrical Training Alliance center in Detroit


A 10-week pre-apprenticeship is one of the highlights of a new program that will be offered by the Electrical Training Alliance.