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December 2016

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NextGen Young Workers Conference Inspires, Educates

With a focus on membership engagement, safety and history, IBEW's next generation of sisters and brothers gathered for a weekend of motivation and networking at the NextGen conference, held in Toronto Oct. 28-30.

"The strength of our union comes from each and every one of our members being engaged and active," said First District Vice President Bill Daniels, who attended. "I encourage you, over the next couple of days, to speak with your fellow members, ask questions of the guest speakers and workshop facilitators and take what you learn back to your local union."

The theme was "Power up Your Membership," and 70 delegates representing 13 locals from across Canada heard from labor leaders, safety advocates and each other about how to engage their peers and continue the legacy of the Brotherhood.

Jim Belanger, a journeyman electrician and member of Toronto Local 353 and co-chair of his NextGen committee, said, "It can be hard to get a lot of young people to sit still and pay attention, but they made it work."

NextGen is the First District's initiative to engage young workers to get involved with their local unions. Along with its counterpart in the U.S., it comprises the RENEW/NextGen initiative.

The conference included workshops on organizing, IBEW history and structure and getting involved at the local level. There was also a workshop on how to build a NextGen committee, which Belanger and Ali Rossiter, program coordinator with Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37, attended.

"We have a NextGen Committee, but it's been relatively inactive for a couple of years," Rossiter said. "I think it just needs the right person or group of people to get it in motion and get our NextGen-ers involved. And now we a have toolkit to make that happen."

As with a lot of conferences, much of the learning and engagement came from meeting other members.

"It's good to mingle with others," Belanger said. "You can sit around and talk shop, get to know each other and hear what other committees have done that's been successful."

"There's a ton of people out there supporting this initiative across North America and it's great to hear from them," Rossiter said. "This isn't just a Local 37 thing, but something much bigger."

The keynote was a highlight. Spencer Beach, a third-generation floor technician and safety advocate, spoke on the topic of safety. While at work in April 2003, he suffered third- and fourth- degree burns over 90 percent of his body as a result of a flash fire.

"It really opened my eyes to how easy it is to be safe, but also how easy it can be to be careless about safety," Rossiter said. "Especially at home. As a new homeowner that really landed with me."

Kate Walsh, strategic coordinator for the First District, said, "It was a cool way to end the conference considering that this is the 125th anniversary of the IBEW and that it began because of poor safety conditions. It was incredibly powerful."


Toronto Local 353 member Aaron Zboch Alves, left, and Ottawa, Ontario, Local 586 member Sam Lapierre share their experiences at the 39th International Convention with fellow NextGen members.