IEC & 4H: Encouraging the Next Generation of Electrical Contractors
If you attended the 56th Annual IEC National Convention & Electric Expo in Fort Worth, Texas last October, you may have noticed some young faces in the exhibit hall on Friday morning. Perhaps you saw people with stickers that had a four-leaf clover on them; those future leaders were the 4-H’ers attending the Electrical Industry Career Exploration Day!
Youth ages 12-18 were invited to come to the Electric Expo for a few hours to participate in a guided, but fun, educational activity. The goal was to expose more young people to the exciting and diverse careers in the electrical industry – and spark their interest in the trade!
Through the efforts of volunteers on the IEC National Workforce Development Committee, IEC Fort Worth/Tarrant County and IEC Dallas Chapters, 4-H staff, and volunteer leaders, a program was put together. The morning started with an orientation session to introduce the youth to IEC and an overview of the electrical industry. Then they were given a “bingo” card, put in small groups, partnered with an IEC volunteer guide, and let loose on the exhibit hall floor.
The competition was on! The 4-H’ers had to get as many squares filled in as possible within two hours to win. They had to find an exhibitor or attendee who could answer the item in each square in order to have it marked off. From – “Sells a reference that shows Ohms Law” to “Can tell you what OSHA stands for” to “Can show you a wire nut and tell you what they are used for”, 4-H’ers, with their IEC guides, crisscrossed the floor to see and learn about many aspects of the trade and fill in their bingo card. Exhibitors who took a few minutes to answer questions or demonstrate their products to the youth were given 4-H clover stickers to wear and show their participation in sparking the interest in the electrical industry.
After the two hours were over, everyone re-grouped to compare responses and find winners. The young participants took turns sharing the answers to each block. The IEC guides beamed with pride as the 4-H’ers from their group wowed us with how much they learned. Honestly, it was difficult to tell who had more fun – the adults or the youth! Prizes such as t-shirts, and a plasma ball, and several other goodies were awarded to the 4-H’ers. Then the parents and youth in attendance completed a mini evaluation to help us know what they thought.
Perhaps you are wondering why we did this – why we invited 4-H’ers specifically and why we included youth as young as 12? 4-H is a youth development program for boys and girls ages 8-18, and is available in every single county of every state under the direction of land-grant colleges. One of their goals is to expand the number of youth learning about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) topics and entering those careers. Given the common interests, 4-H and IEC have been in a partnership to work together on these goals!
As to why so young, you might be surprised that research shows that by the age of 13 young people have already decided what they don’t want to do as a career. Because most career development activities such as job shadows and vocational programs are targeting the high school level student, younger students are potentially excluding the electrical industry before they even know the many benefits. So it is vital to include the middle school level students in our outreach, and especially girls, if we want to spark more interest in the trade. Obviously, students at the high school level still need to hear about our industry and the opportunities within IEC as well, and this event allowed us to reach both age groups.
Was the 4-H Career Day at the IEC Electric Expo a success? Well, consider these things:
- In sending out the invitation to 4-H youth through their newsletters, we talked to 14 4-H educators in the counties surrounding the Fort Worth area and introduced them to IEC and the apprenticeship program. These educators interact with hundreds of young people and can encourage them to participate in the 4-H electricity projects and science activities.
- For the youth who attended, it was almost an exact 50/50 split between boys and girls. Since registered apprenticeship programs have affirmative action goals to reach women, this is a positive step in that direction.
- Attendees talked to at least 24 different exhibitors or contractors to complete their bingo card and therefore they saw the industry from a multitude of perspectives.
- Parents attended with the 4-H’ers and learned as much about the industry as their children.
- Following the 4-H slogan of “Learn by doing,” youth were able to participate in hands-on activities throughout the Electric Expo. Industry partners graciously allowed the youth to do the Thomas & Betts “Hexflex Challenge” and feel the difference at the Maxis Simpull demonstration to name a few. It may seem that contractors and chapters are primarily responsible for outreach, but this event showed that industry partners have the ability and willingness to help provide the spark of interest in young people too.
After considering all of these points, the IEC National Workforce Development Committee felt it was a success. In fact, the plans are already underway to repeat the Electrical Industry Career Exploration Day at the 56th Annual IEC National Convention & Electric Expo in Portland, Oregon. So whether you are an industry partner or a contractor, I hope that you will join in and help create the spark of interest in the electrical industry as a career!
Christi Buker is the Executive Director of the Central Pennsylvania Chapter IEC, and a 4-H volunteer leader. If you have questions about 4-H or are interested in helping at the next event during the 56th Annual IEC National Convention & Electric Expo in Portland, Oregon, you may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.