Chapter Corner

The IEC Training Advantage

Posted in: January/February 2013

Imagine a world where you need simple electrical work done to your home or business, but the wait for an available electrician is at least three to four months. Unfortunately, this scenario could come to fruition in the upcoming years as the skilled labor shortage continues to become more prominent.

InsightsPic_TRNADV.gifThe good news is construction spending seems to be picking up and is projected to grow by six percent in 2013.  However, the bad news is that many contractors still report labor shortages as the number one issue facing the industry. In fact, it is estimated that a two-million-worker gap between construction labor demand and supply in parts of the U.S. could be the industry's next crisis as the workforce continues to shrink amid a strengthening economy. In a nutshell, the industry is in crucial need of skilled men and women to perform construction work. IEC and its 60 Chapters are prepared to rise up and meet this daunting challenge, and will do so by utilizing the IEC Training Advantage™.

Having a solid amount of training from a reputable program such as IEC’s can set you apart from other, untrained, electricians in the field. IEC has one of the best training programs in the industry that is multifaceted and goes far beyond just opening a book.

“The IEC Training Advantage embraces the philosophy that ‘why’ something is done is just as important as ‘how’ something is done,” explains IEC National Executive Vice President/CEO Thayer Long. “Teaching and espousing critical thinking makes extremely strong, well-rounded professionals in any field, and ultimately will create a more efficient and productive workforce, and better electricians.” This philosophy of “why” is what separates an IEC education from competing electrical apprenticeship programs.

The IEC Training Advantage platform was also designed to focus on three major elements that set IEC apart from any other in the industry:

  1. Not only does IEC have an exemplary curriculum, but it focuses exclusively on electricians and systems contractors and works in conjunction with a strong, standardized testing process.

  2. The four-year Apprentice Training Program is just one step. IEC and its chapters offer countless continuing education classes to members to keep them fully updated and trained in an ever changing industry. IEC also offers a training module for instructors, so they can do their job more efficiently.

  3. Training is more than a lesson plan or a curriculum.  It includes state-of-the-art facilities, a strong network of mentors, and a bevy of other resources.

At the helm of the IEC Training Advantage is the four-year IEC Apprentice Training Program. Perhaps the major factor that sets this apprenticeship apart is the U.S. Department of Labor approved IEC Apprentice Curriculum. Utilized by IEC Chapters, the curriculum is designed for adult learners and is written and managed by a team of experts in the technical, code, and educational fields.

“The IEC curriculum is more in-depth and covers a wide range of topics for IEC students,” explains IEC Rocky Mountain Training Director Jeff Macht. “It provides a well-rounded education. Not only does IEC give the student the book knowledge, but we teach them how to take that knowledge and apply it in a lab setting.” The ability for students to apply their knowledge from the book to real life situations is what gives IEC students that extra edge. Apprentices must spend 144 hours of classroom training, which combines lectures and hands-on labs. Not to mention that students are also employed by IEC member companies and must complete 2,000 hours of on-the-job training.

IEC of Southern New Mexico Executive Director Phyllis Franzoy agrees with the importance of IEC’s applied learning structure. “I can speak directly to the importance of the IEC Training Program benefits in contrast to non-IEC students,” relates Franzoy. “When we partnered with our local community college on the electrical classes, the college used the IEC Curriculum. However, the college did not support the lab training classes, so non-IEC students did not have an opportunity for hands-on instruction. Without the hands-on application, the classroom instruction is not reinforced.”

Not only do IEC students have access to a superior education, IEC instructors also have training available to them. The IEC Instructor Training is a three-level, online learning tool that provides IEC instructors with the necessary means to guide them on how to teach a class, thus strengthening the education of IEC apprentices.  The first level, which is geared towards new instructors, focuses on how to create lesson plans, engage students, create a safe training environment, and more. “The main goal for the Instructor Training Program is to equip IEC instructors with tools to be more effective teachers and make them more comfortable in an online environment,” relates Gary Golka of Golka Electric and Chair of the 2013 IEC Apprenticeship & Training (A&T) Committee. The A&T Committee is currently working on Phases II and III of the program, which are scheduled to be finalized in 2013.

“Career training and development is lifelong,” explains Long. IEC believes that training doesn’t end after apprenticeship. You must constantly learn and adapt to succeed in an industry that’s constantly changing. IEC chapters across the country offer countless hours of continuing education classes from a selection of subjects including everything from North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certification to code reviews and OSHA 10 hour training.

At Central Ohio AEC-IEC, Chapter Executive Director Barb Tipton tries to offer continuing education in the most convenient way possible. Every Friday, the chapter offers a “Lunch and Code” class, helping members stay current on their 10-hour license re-certification requirements.  Breaking down the 10 hours into two and a half hour segments, while also adding a warm meal, allows contractors to fulfill their code requirements in less than a month! Thus far, the classes have been a huge success with Central Ohio IEC members.

The A&T Committee is also in the process of developing and finalizing the Electrical & Systems Training Series (ESTS). ESTS is a training program for non-apprentices who have a great deal of experience under their belts. “There are some electricians who have been working in the field for several years and have never gone through an apprentice program, or many workers are in similar fields and want to have more electrical training” said Golka. Members can also take advantage of the ESTS if they need to brush up on more complex subjects such as electrical theory or another aspect of the IEC curriculum. The ESTS will be a major tool for electricians for the Professional Electrician’s Program (PEP). PEP was designed for electricians with at least 10,000 field hours (approximately five years but no classroom instruction) looking for further career development. This person will then be able to take nine, pre-determined courses from the ESTS and after completion, take the same standardized test offered to fourth-year apprentices. After passing the test, the electrician will be able to have the same educational certification as if he/she went through the IEC Apprentice Training Program. Not only is this a great tool for continuing education, but also for building leaders within the industry who may not have had access to an apprenticeship opportunity in the past.

Some of the greatest aspects of the IEC Training Advantage are not as tangible as an apprentice’s text book or sitting in a code class. The network of IEC contractors, the IEC philosophy, and an array of powerful resources is what adds the benefit of an education offered by this association.

IEC is comprised by the leading electrical and systems contractors in the industry who are not only employers of apprentices, but also act as mentors. Rick Warner, was a member of the inaugural graduating class from IEC of Greater Cincinnati. Warner notes that the greatest part of his apprenticeship was the mentoring he received from his employer, Denier Electric in Harrison, Ohio. “They taught me how to show up to work and how to have a positive attitude,” said Warner. The group of mentors, which also included instructors and even other students, taught Warner to care about what he was doing and take pride in his work. His on-the-job training and mentoring from Denier management reinforced the “why” philosophy that is so unique to IEC’s training. That’s not something you will find in just any curriculum.

2013 will prove to be an exciting year for IEC. As previously stated, IEC aims to roll out more modules for Instructor Training and finalize the ESTS program. The A&T committee and the National Office are also looking to tackle some new developments on the horizon, especially in terms of distance learning. A challenge for many chapters is having apprentices that live a great distance from a training facility, thus making it difficult for them to attend every lecture, lab, etc. Some chapters are currently utilizing distance/online learning, and this is something that IEC is looking to further develop, but with some limitations.

“We will never be able to be totally online; there needs to be some contact,” explains Golka on the challenges of online training. That face-to-face contact, especially when it comes to labs, is extremely important to the education of an apprentice. Golka advises that IEC is looking to take a “hybrid approach” to online learning, with some aspects being asynchronous so apprentices can perform some part of their training at their own pace. The major challenge of presenting online learning is keeping the face-to-face, in person contact. The A&T committee is still discussing what a “hybrid approach” to online learning for apprentice training will look like.

“The IEC Training Advantage starts with a platform that emphasizes that’s today’s electrical and systems contractors need to think and adapt in the field to a changing landscape and changing conditions,” says Long. As we move further into the future, so does IEC. The industry may change but one thing will remain the same: the strength of an IEC education.

Laurie Montanus is the Director of Communications for IEC National. She has experience at numerous trade associations and received her Bachelors Degree in corporate communications from Elon University.