Focus – Construction Education – Bright future in electrical training
DALLAS/FORT WORTH – Describe the apprenticeship and training program. The North Texas Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Trust Fund trains people, who have no experience or a little experience, how to do electrical work. We take them from the very beginning and get them qualified to take the State of Texas electrical exam.
It’s an official registered apprentice-ship program with the Department of Labor. It’s a standard program where we start school every six months, in July and in January, and rotate the classes. A student goes through all five years and then becomes a journeyman at the end. Every other week, apprentices take a day off of work and come to school. Although they don’t get paid for that day, the rest of the time they are out making money, working for the contractors sponsoring our program.
The instructors are all electricians, are all at least journeyman or master electricians, have at least an Associates degree in electrical instruction and also have teaching certificates.
We’re very strict on time; we get paid by the hour; every minute is money. We’re also very strict on grades; 75 is our minimum score and we hold our people to a very high standard.
How is technology helping educate your students in this program?
We are offering more homework online. It gives instructors more time during the day to do more hands-on training than we’ve had the chance to do in the past.
Have you seen an increase in training costs over the last few years?
Definitely yes; it just goes with the cost of everything [increasing]. The books cost a little bit more money and tuition costs a little bit more money.
We’re a nonprofit organization; our contractors give us donations basically for all of the work our organization does. That’s what keeps the lights on and pays the salaries. We charge exactly what the books cost us. We’re associated with the Dallas County Community College district so our students can get an associates degree in construction if they would like to, although that is not a requirement.
With that, they do have to pay tuition, which is set by the state legislature. The cost has gone up, but not nearly as much. Over the course of five years, our program costs roughly $5,600 – about $550 a semester for 10 semesters. The apprentices do have a little bit of a cost because, if you get something for free, you don’t appreciate it as much as if you worked for it.
What areas of education need to be improved to better serve the industry?
Our program is really math oriented, so a good math background is very important. We have a “math refresher class” because we have people straight out of high school and we have people in their 50s entering our program for a career change who maybe haven’t done math in a long time. We do the math refresher class to refresh everybody’s memory on basic math skills. We also get into a little bit of geometry and trigonometry because in bending conduit and doing calculations, they’ll be using that.
What are reasons for the declining interest in the construction industry?
It’s hard work. We are held to a different standard than a lot of other people; if you’re in construction and you’re not going to work, you’re not getting paid. Also, we work in all kinds of weather conditions. We work inside and outside.
Do you visit high schools or colleges to educate young people about this program?
We visit a lot of high schools, but don’t normally go to a college unless someone specifically asks us to come and teach.
Vocational classes are the best ones we like to talk to people at; those people have a little bit of background. You usually get people that want to work.
What are ways to attract young people to the industry?
Educating them, helping them to know that there are other avenues besides going to college. Of course, we would love it if everyone could go to college, but not everyone is cut out for college and not everyone can afford to go. We have so many kids who go to college, get a degree in something that is not what they want to do, have $60,000 to $100,000 in student loans that they have to pay back and are looking for a job that pays them $15 an hour.
If you look at statistics – and I don’t know the exact number – a large percentage of college freshman never make it past the first semester. Out of that percentage, a larger percentage never even attempt to go back and finish college. Those people need to make a living at a decent job and construction gives them that. Even an electrician working out in the field may someday become an electrical contractor and own their own company or corporation. –mjm
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