By LISA MONTI
Twenty-nine apprentices selected for the Jackson Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee program attended their first class Aug. 15.
“Hopefully, five years from now we will have all 29 finishing the program,” said Jim Stephens, the training director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers or IBEW.
The new trainees are among 90 apprentices taking part in the five-year training program to become certified to work in commercial and industrial construction, “from a nuclear power plant to the Burger King down the street,” Stephens said.
The national Joint Apprenticeship training program was created more than 70 years ago by the National Electrical Contractors Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The goal is to provide the highest quality training in the industry.
Stephens called the classes demanding. “Some apprentices have said this is one of the hardest things they’ve ever done,” he said.
So far the NECA/IBEW alliance has trained more than 350,0000 apprentices to become journeymen and is the largest such training program of its kind.
The apprentices are required to complete 900 hours of classroom work and almost 10,000 hours of on-the-job training before taking final exams to receive certifications from the NJATC and the Department of Labor. “It’s a big commitment that these guys have made,” said Stephens of the trainees.
Tuition is paid for by the contractors who hire the apprentices as they are learning. While they work, they earn paychecks and receive insurance and retirement benefits.
“All they have to do is purchase textbooks and attend classes. We take care of everything else,” Stephens said.
Class size is based on what union contractors tell IBEW they need in terms of employees and as soon at new classes begin, the apprentices are hired.
The new class includes workers who left jobs at pizza parlors and cable companies to be trained for new skills.
“We also have heavy equipment operators, several military veterans and some straight out of high school,” he said.
Because Mississippi is a right-to-work state, union membership isn’t mandatory, Stephens said, “but most do join the IBEW when they become aware of the benefit of union membership.”
The Jackson joint apprenticeship training program covers 32 counties and is one of four in Mississippi. The others are in Corinth, Gulfport and Meridian.
The apprentice electrician works directly under the supervision of a qualified journeyman electrician and assists in installing or maintaining a variety of approved wiring methods for distribution of electrical light, heat, power and control systems in existing structures or buildings under construction for residential, commercial and industrial occupancy.
“If someone is looking for a meaningful career in the electrical construction industry — one that builds character and pride and offers a bright future — look no further than the IBEW/NECA apprenticeship program,” Stephens said.
The Jackson JATC conducts interviews twice a year and selects apprentices from approximately 125 applicants who must have a high school diploma or GED.
Those selected for the five-year program spend at least one night a week in class.
The classes range from 25 to 40 trainees. During the recession only 15 or 16 were chosen each year for training but the last two years have had about 30 apprentices in each class.
It’s a sign the market is recovering, Stephens said.
“I’d love to take in all 125 people but you can’t have somebody sitting on the bench watching the others making money. They need to get in the game to make money,” he said.
Stephens, who went through the training program himself, is one of six instructors who are experts in their field.
“During the day they have other jobs but they went through these same doors and took the same path as all of the apprentices,” he said.
The JATC provides classroom training for the apprentices while they gain knowledge, skills and abilities and earn a paycheck.
“We’re a one-stop shop,” he said.
The work is usually short term, but some apprentices stay with one employer for their whole career.
“It’s not uncommon for them to stay with the same contractor for the entire five years of their apprenticeship and retire with them,” Stephens said.
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