Some of Fernando Guillen’s students pose with the Tampa, Fla., Local 915 member (holding trophy), a journeyman inside wireman-turned-high school teacher who was recently honored as Klein Tools’ 2019 Electrician of the Year. Credit: Hillsborough County Public Schools.

Tampa, Fla., Local 915 member Fernando Guillen, a journeyman inside wireman who now teaches electricity full-time at nearby Plant City HighSchool, was honored in November by Klein Tools as its 2019 Electrician of the Year.

“He’s a pretty sharp individual,” said Local 915 Business Manager Randall King. “Fernando was a good apprentice when he came through, and the work he’s doing now is incredibly important, helping to recruit and train the next generation of electricians.”

During a ceremony held in the wireman’s classroom, Local 915 Training Director David McCraw, some of Guillen’s students and several of the school’s leaders were on hand as representatives of Klein Tools presented the wireman with a check for $1,000, plus an additional $1,000 to be used to buy Klein Tools products to help support the school’s fast-growing electrical program.

“Guillen’s commitment to his students really stood out in our minds as someone who is not only dedicated to his job, but who is an ambassador of the important work electricians do every day,” said Greg Palese, Klein Tools’ vice president of marketing. “By sharing his story, we hope to encourage the next generation of tradespeople to follow in his footsteps.”

“I’m still completely in awe, amazed, surprised,” said Guillen, who grew up in the Tampa area. Spanish-language television commercials touting teaching as a career option had inspired him to consider it at a young age. “As a Hispanic, I knew the struggle when teachers couldn’t pronounce your name,” he said.

A lot of people had encouraged him to go to college after high school, he said, but he worried about whether he could afford it. His parents, Margarita and Melchor, had supported Guillen and his two brothers by picking strawberries and other seasonal fruit.

“They told me, ‘You need to better yourself,’” Guillen said. “‘If you’re not going to go to college, you need to learn a trade.’”

He ended up taking electrical classes at Tampa’s Erwin Technical College. When he graduated, one of his teachers sent a letter of recommendation on Guillen’s behalf to Local 915, telling him, “They’re gonna treat you well.”

After joining the local and completing his apprenticeship in 2011, Guillen worked for several years on a variety of industrial and commercial jobsites.

Meanwhile, word about his teaching interest had reached Plant City High School administrators, and when Guillen received an offer to teach electricity at the school, “it was good timing,” he said. “I was close to the end of a project and figured I was about to be laid off.” He sailed through the application process and was hired in 2016 to teach one electrical class of 30 students and five other classes of carpentry.

It was rough going then. “For the first year, the only tools I had for class were the ones in my own toolbox,” he said.

Now, he teaches electricity to nearly 100 students across six classes and has enough tools for students to work in pairs. “My local and [Tampa-based electrical utility] TECO Energy have helped out a lot,” he said.

Guillen made it to Klein Tools’ national finals after being selected by the company out of hundreds of nominees in his region, which includes Florida, 10 other states and the District of Columbia. At the national level, he was up against winners from five other U.S. regions.

Public, web-based balloting was held, and Guillen encouraged people to vote for him at every opportunity — posting a solicitation for support on Local 915’s Facebook page and getting his fellow teachers to let students spend class time casting ballots. “I work with an amazing group of people,” he said.

Klein Tools considered the vote tally and other factors before declaring Guillen the grand prize winner based, it said, on his outstanding mastery of the craft, classroom experience and dedication to his local community.

“He’s just a genuine good guy. When you think of a good person, you see his picture,” said McCraw. “And being an IBEW member, he knows the value of our training.”

In a Facebook post, Guillen expressed his sincere gratitude for the support he received on the way toward winning his award.

“I first have to thank God because without him none of this would have been possible,” he wrote. He also thanked his wife, Diana, and their two children.

“Thank you to … countless numbers of journeymen wiremen electricians, fellow classmates from IBEW Local 915, for helping mold me into the electrician I have become today,” he wrote. “I am honored to be put in this position. This is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”