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January 2021

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Veterans Program Graduates First Online Pre-Apprentice

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 training arm of the National Electrical Contractors Association, 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."


Kennewick, Wash., Local 112 member Raul Gutierrez was the first person to complete the online version of the Veterans Electrical Entry Program last year.

Expanding Opportunities in Fast-Growing Solar Field

Leaders at St. Louis Local 1 are doing their part to make sure the IBEW plays a big role in the booming growth of solar energy in their region. The local recently assumed a leadership role in an innovative pilot program designed to help city leaders identify and recruit men and women into the electrical field, especially those from often untapped communities.

"We're doing a good job of keeping up with the demand for solar, and there's no end of that demand in sight," said Local 1 Business Manager Frank Jacobs. "This pilot has the potential to help us stay ahead for years to come and give more people the chance to get a solid, middle-class union job in this critical field."

Initial work on implementing the city's Solar Workforce Development Pilot began in 2019. The various restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, however, delayed the start of the city's actual recruitment process until this past November.

"We have a good, longstanding relationship with the city," Jacobs said. "They knew they could rely on the IBEW to be a willing and knowledgeable partner in their efforts." A big advantage to the pilot, he said, is that it's built using established, existing local resources, rather than trying to come up with something completely new.

The city is well acquainted with Local 1's decades-long commitment to diversity. Its community outreach efforts extend into dozens of St. Louis-area high school career fairs each year, with an eye toward broadening electrical career opportunities for minorities by targeting students in school districts with large minority populations.

In recent years, anywhere from a quarter to nearly half of Local 1's apprentices have been minorities, with the mentoring program at the local's Electrical Industry Training Center helping to produce a more than 90% graduation rate.

For this workforce development pilot, an application process helps to narrow the list of recruits to no more than 20. After these men and women are selected, some of the other pilot partners, such as the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council's Building Union Diversity program, will help ensure that they are prepared to handle the challenges of working in a professional environment. Other pilot partners will be charged with helping participants overcome some potential employment barriers, such as a lack of access to transportation, childcare and work clothes.

Once all of that has been sorted out, the IBEW component will kick in, with the journeymen wiremen of Local 1 spending a few days sharing some of their solar installation expertise, mixing desk-based learning with on-the-job work to give participants a taste of what a typical electrician might experience installing solar arrays. Trainers from Local 1 will then assess participants' interest and help them determine whether an apprenticeship, and eventual solar installation work, is for them.

"We think a program like this could be really effective in getting information out to the public about good-paying jobs in the electrical industry," said Dennis Gralike, director of apprenticeship at the Electrical Industry Training Center.

And there are plenty of jobs to be had, especially in the solar field. Major solar projects on their way to the St. Louis area include a joint venture recently announced between IBEW signatory contractor Aschinger Electric and Azimuth Energy that plans to focus on utility-scale and commercial solar projects. There's also Ameren's neighborhood solar program, which promises to bring installations to its customers who have space for solar panels, say, on their rooftops or in their parking lots.

"This is an innovative way for us to make strides with the city's ambitious climate protection goals while advancing diversity and equity in the workforce at the same time," said St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson of the program. "We're fortunate to have strong community partners willing to join us in taking a leadership role in this endeavor."

The pilot was developed by the St. Louis Office of Sustainability with support by a grant from the Energy Foundation through the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge. St. Louis is one of 25 cities selected to participate in the Challenge, an effort to help cities take action to reduce pollution that contributes to climate change and affects public health.

Being "all in" on renewable energy initiatives is nothing new for Local 1. Its training center's pioneering Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program has been crucial in supporting the growing electric vehicle industry, and Dr. Linda Little, the assistant director of the training center, helped develop the EVITP for a national audience. The center's own covered parking lot has been blanketed with photovoltaic cells for years.

One hoped-for outcome from the pilot, after its partners have assessed each step of the program, is a robust recruitment set-up that will help close some of the gaps that have existed traditionally between solar installation training from non-IBEW sources and the successful placement of knowledgeable trainees in solid, middle-class union jobs in the solar industry.

"We're thrilled for the chance to bring our union's solar classroom education and field instruction to this program," Gralike said. "Training is among the many things the IBEW does best."


Evidence of St. Louis Local 1's longtime commitment to renewable energy initiatives is seen at the array of photovoltaic cells covering part of its training center's parking lot.

Ontario Government Funds Initiatives for
Tradeswomen and Safety

The Ontario government will provide CA$37 million in funding to increase job training, with CA$450,000 dedicated to the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council to support women in the trades and health and safety training.

"We're very pleased to have the support of the Ontario government," said First District International Vice President Tom Reid. "The IBEW has been a leader on these issues and we look forward to continuing our work within the building trades to bring in more women to these well-paying and fulfilling careers."

The announcement was made by Premier Doug Ford on Sept. 3 at the training center for Hamilton, Ontario Local 105. Having the premier speak at an IBEW center is a good sign, says Local 105 Business Manager Steve Fox.

"To have the provincial government on the same page as the IBEW when it comes to supporting quality electrical careers is a tremendous success," Fox said. "It's a testament to all the good work the IBEW has done in building relationships that the government chose to make this announcement at our union hall."

The premier was joined by Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton; Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Jane McKenna; and members of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario.

"The IBEW [Construction Council of Ontario] is very proud of our female apprentices and journeypersons who provided training demonstrations to Premier Ford and Minister McNaughton during their visit," said James Barry, executive secretary treasurer of the CCO, to the Daily Commercial News. "We appreciate that the Ontario government has announced investments in training, reinforcing the importance that only highly trained and certified professionals should be undertaking dangerous work such as electrical work."

Patrick Dillon, business manager for the Building Trades Council, noted the changes to safety protocols the trades have had to make this year because of the coronavirus.

"There has been a lot of cooperation with the government and the contractors' associations and the building trades to collectively work at cleaning that up. They've done a reasonably good job, but some contractors think that we should start relaxing the protocols moving back to pre-COVID," Dillon told Daily Commercial News. "It's just not going to happen. We've got some educational work to do around that."

Dillon, who is also a former business manager of Local 105, said there's also a need to address mental health issues during this stressful time.

"The more we get into this stuff, the more mental health challenges are being highlighted," Dillon said. "Funding will be directed towards those programs and initiatives."


Ontario Premier Doug Ford, center, toured the Hamilton, Ontario Local 105 training facility in September as part of an announcement of provincial funding to support women in the trades as well as safety training.