Chapter Corner

A Timeline for Training

Posted in: Features, January/February 2013

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How long does it take to become an electrician? No, this is not the beginning of a joke, but a serious question that I ask high school students, parents, and others considering a career in the electrical industry when I speak at the Central Pennsylvania IEC Annual Apprenticeship Open House.

Answers are called out from around the room. "Nine months," calls out one high school student, obviously remembering the television ad for the local for-profit career institute. "Two years," responds a parent who is thinking that community college and an associate's degree is what they need.

So when I tell them four years, they almost fall off their chairs in amazement that it takes that long. Yes, the IEC Apprenticeship Program - a high-quality program that requires a minimum of 576 classroom training hours and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training under the supervision of a qualified journeyman electrician - is a four year program.

Now if I ask a group of experienced electricians to answer how long it takes to become an electrician, you would get a whole different set of answers. Someone might share how long it took them to pass a journeyman's exam, or how many years before they got a master's license.

From the perspective of a business owner, they might want to interpret the question as "At what point does an employee have enough training?" There might be a discussion related to how many continuing education units are required to maintain various licenses or certifications.

No matter who you ask, they all have an answer for a specific range of time. The most intriguing answer that I've heard is, "It takes a lifetime!" When you consider that response, it isn't hard to recognize that the electrical industry is continuing to become more diverse, encompassing alternative energy sources and low voltage security and data systems. New technologies require training to learn proper installation and use. So it would make sense that someone could learn, and then continue to learn how, to be an electrician. Electricians need to be life-long learners.

It can be overwhelming for businesses to provide the training for its workers. Fortunately, IEC members can utilize the wealth of resources through both local chapters and IEC National for high-quality training at great values.

Maybe you look at all the options IEC has to offer and ask yourself, "Is investing in training worth it?" Well, let's look at some of the advantages of training.

  1. Training your own workforce means that you know what they have been taught and what they haven't. Creating good skills and habits from the beginning is a lot easier than breaking bad ones;
  2. Education, licenses, and certifications are all items that, if promoted to customers can be a reason to pick your company over others that don't train;
  3. Training is a benefit to the individual worker. When you discuss compensation with employees, be sure to include the total amount you have contributed for their education - tuition, books, and registration fees;
  4. Training can build confidence and enthusiasm in employees as they gain new skills and knowledge. Have you ever seen the "aha" moment when someone fully grasps a difficult concept;
  5. Training in new techniques can help businesses stay ahead of the competition; and
  6. Training shows a positive focus and long-range planning in a company. If it is perceived as a necessary evil, rather than an opportunity to improve or polish skills and refresh knowledge, then you risk letting your workers, and even your business get really rusty. Wouldn't you rather be striving to have the best workers and best environment at your company?

So what are some of the ways you can incorporate training in a manner that is both good for the company and good for your workers?

Establish the minimums. Obviously, completion of the IEC Apprenticeship Program is a good minimum standard to be considered a journeyman. Completing the mandatory number of continuing education credits to maintain licenses is another minimum.

Encourage your workers to reach for more. Even if it is not required in your area, find a nearby license requirement and encourage workers to get that license. As a business, it is a lot easier to expand into an area if someone is already licensed versus having to turn down work because you can't get licensed there in time. If someone receives a certification or credential, post a copy where other workers can see it. Positive recognition is a great way to encourage ongoing learning.

Repeat, repeat, repeat. Or - discuss, discuss, discuss. In order for skills to be retained, they need to be repeated multiple times. If a company sends one worker to a seminar, have that person write a short summary of the main points. Writing will reinforce their knowledge, but the summary can also be shared with other workers. Summarizing too difficult? Then evaluate the seminar. Should the company send other workers to the same seminar next year.? Was the instructor so good that they would enjoy going to other sessions they teach?

Look ahead. When you do annual reviews, do you recognize what training and credentials an employee completed this year? Make sure you also discuss what additional training they would like to complete in the next few years. Don't forget to include recurring requirements like CPR and First Aid certifications.

Share the investment. Look for sessions that are in the evenings or Saturdays. The company can agree to pay the registration and the employee is investing their own time. When possible, reimburse for training based on grades with a graduated scale. Score an A, you get 100 percent reimbursement. Score a B, maybe you only get 90 percent reimbursement. If allowed by local laws, consider adding a policy that if an employee leaves the company, they may be responsible for repayment of training received within the last few months. You can't always keep the employees you have trained, but you can communicate that the company hopes to see a return on that investment.

Give back by teaching. If an employee has completed company-paid training, can they teach it to others?

Set learning as a goal for all levels of employees. Just as you may ask young children, "What did you learn at school today?" ask yourself and your employees, "What did we learn this week?" Business owners can take advantage of IEC Forums, the Leadership Conference, and the Annual Convention to learn better business practices, and explore new products and technologies. Just reading a book or magazine article can show your employees that you believe you are never too old to learn!

So what is the answer to this question of how long it takes to become an electrician?

Christi Buker is the executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Chapter IEC. She enjoys the privilege of helping members utilize IEC resources to improve and grow the training of their workforce.