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November 2017

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'We're the Next Wave':
IBEW Youth Sharpen Skills at RENEW/NextGen Conference

The IBEW's annual RENEW/NextGen conference brought together more than 500 of the Brotherhood's youngest members for three days of workshops, networking and motivation.

"What an amazing opportunity to hear from so many people and see how things are done in other locals," said Jennifer Neath, a member of Toronto Local 636. "Everyone I spoke with had something new to offer."

From Sept. 21 to 23 in Pittsburgh, the theme was, "Building Bridges to Our Future," partly inspired by the host city's nickname, the "City of Bridges."

"The theme speaks to not only building a bridge to get the younger generation more involved, but building bridges within our own union," said Kate Walsh, First District international representative and strategic coordinator. "For that alone, this conference was a huge success."

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

With a focus on organizing, the Code of Excellence and diversity and inclusion, the workshops covered topics like Canadian and U.S. labour history, leadership communication styles and addressing bigotry and implicit bias.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Local 1928 member Alain Melanson said he found the workshop on how to get a new RENEW/NextGen chapter off the ground useful since his was just formed in January. Among the lessons: don't go too big too fast.

"We tried to host a big baseball tournament earlier this year and it didn't work out," Melanson said. "We learned it's better to start with small events and then expand. And it was good to hear from others who had been through, and survived, similar hiccups."

Victoria, British Columbia, Local 230 member Cory McGregor, whose chapter was formed in June, said he appreciated hearing what other locals are doing, like the chili cookout that San Diego Local 569's chapter hosted where they invited local politicians to judge the contest.

"It was a great way for them to get their name out there," McGregor said.

McGregor and Melanson also said they were impressed by Alicia Garza, one of the speakers who, along with two other activists, started the racial justice movement Black Lives Matter.

"I was sitting there thinking, just three people started a movement that everyone in North America knows about," Melanson said. "And she's our age. She'd be a NextGener if she were in the IBEW."

McGregor, Melanson and Neath said they left the conference engaged and with ideas on how to grow their chapters and in the process, the next generation of the IBEW.

"We're the next wave," Melanson said. "The next Lonnie Stephenson is out there, Bill Daniels too. We need to be ready to lead."


More than 500 young members from Canada and the U.S. attended the RENEW/NextGen conference in September.