This past October, U.S. Army veteran Raul Gutierrez became the first person to finish his pre-apprenticeship program completely online.
Gutierrez is a graduate of the Veterans Electrical Entry Program's computer-mediated learning course, which allows participants to take classes online that prepare them for an IBEW apprenticeship.
"The biggest thing that stood out for me was the program itself," said Gutierrez, who is now in his first year as an apprentice with Kennewick, Wash., Local 112. "It's nice to see an organization actually come out and provide a path for veterans to join them, especially the IBEW which can provide veterans with a very good career."
VEEP, which is open to service members and their spouses, is usually done in person over seven weeks toward the end of a person's military service. But starting this year, the Electrical Training Alliance, the joint training arm of the National Electrical Contractors Association and the IBEW, created an online option as way to expand access to the program. Instead of having to go to Alaska to participate in Anchorage Local 1547's program, currently the only place offering the in-person version, servicemen and women can complete their work online from wherever they're at and whenever it works with their schedule.
"I've been really impressed by the program," said Local 112's Training Director Kris Tuura. "It's a great way to give veterans a jumpstart into the electrical trade, which is the whole point of a pre-apprenticeship."
VEEP's computer mediated curriculum, which currently has four new participants following in Gutierrez's footsteps, covers the core components of a first-year inside wireman apprenticeship like reading blueprints, safety, the electrical code and DC theory. Math classes are provided by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. ETA Curriculum Specialist Greg McMurphy, who used to be an instructor with Local 112, provides support to the online trainees, including details like sending them their local's tool list to familiarize themselves with.
"I was really glad to see [Raul] come through the location where I went through my apprenticeship," McMurphy told Kennewick's NBC Right Now.
Gutierrez, who served for one year in South Korea and nine months in Afghanistan as a combat medic, says he came in with very little electrical experience, but the program got him up to speed.
"Everything was new to me," said the Yakima Valley native. "But the online learning went well. I thought the curriculum was very detailed and easy to understand."
With a self-directed program, it's important to have a strong work ethic, something that's practically par for the course for veterans, and one of the reasons they tend to make such good electrical apprentices.
"With a military background, you know they can follow the rules," Tuura said. "They come in disciplined so you know you don't have to worry about them."
It's good for the veterans too. The flexibility offered by the online curriculum can allow more service members a way in, not to mention a plan for what to do once they leave the military.
"I'm really excited we're doing this for veterans," Tuura said. "It's a great way to support the men and women who have given so much to protect our country."
With so many in-person activities currently on hold or scaled back because of the coronavirus, the computer-mediated option may grow in popularity.
"I see the online option growing regardless," said Local 112 Business Manager Travis Swayze. "I think the COVID pandemic has pushed organizations to that point earlier than expected, but I think people are finding that it's now a viable option."
For Gutierrez, he says he's happy to be home and starting this new chapter.
"I just want to thank the IBEW for giving me this opportunity to join the union," he said. "I'm excited to begin."