Over 2,000 Washingtonians are choosing to pursue trade-related careers in the electrical field through registered apprenticeships, a choice which often leaves them with a secure job and debt-free when their training concludes, as compared to individuals who follow a traditional four-year college path.
Apprentices and instructors with the Puget Sound Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (PSEJATC) school in Renton recognize that those participating in the program have a unique opportunity to not only take classes and learn about different equipment and techniques, but also to work with contractors in the field to connect what is being learned in the classroom setting with what is expected on the job.
The organization is jointly sponsored by the Puget Sound Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 46.
PSEJATC features three registered apprenticeships:
- A two-year residential program focusing on housing;
- A three-year limited energy apprenticeship focusing on telephones and communication cables; and,
- A five-year inside wire program which focuses on commercial buildings.
A popular saying in the program is: “apprenticeships start with a job,” said Ryan Bradt, PSEJATC Assistant Training Director. From day one, apprentices can work in the field with a full benefit package and earn close to $20 per hour while taking classes. The program typically sees a 90-percent retention rate, and it graduates journeymen who are equipped to earn around $50 per hour upon program completion.
Kevin Trinh is in his fifth year as an apprentice in the school’s inside wire program. He got interested in the trades after attending a job fair in Kent. He then applied to several organizations for potential apprenticeships.
“There’s always a path for growth to learn and advance,” he told Lens, adding that the curriculum is varied and structured in a way that trainees can cover material including AC/DC theories, fire alarm systems and transformers over the course of five years.
While Trinh attended college, he didn’t like the structure or how many classes had pre-requisites that were not applicable to what he was learning.
“Through the trades, you learn…what you will be using out of the field,” he said. “The way it is structured, you work and go to school at the same time, compared to” the college path “where you go to an internship or whatever and you will also have a lot of debt you have to pay back.”
Once apprentices graduate, they usually don’t have to look for jobs as they have already worked with contractors who will likely offer them full time employment.
“I currently work for a contractor, and if I am ever laid off the JATC will have someone looking for another contractor for me…Right now, there is a really short turnaround.”
The apprenticeship program provides each trainee with a set of tools as part of its bargaining agreement. Even though apprentices are responsible for their own books and tuition, Trinh said that the cost is a few hundred dollars cheaper than what the local community college would charge for credits.
Mason Bergh is from Olympia and is in his fifth year as an apprentice. He received his journeyman’s card this month and hopes to become a working foreman once he finishes the program.
“I just wanted to do something with my hands and couldn’t do the college thing,” he told Lens. “My friend was doing really well and making good money doing this, so I transferred over.”
Bergh said the apprenticeship has taught him a variety of skills such as how to bend conduit, run pipe, hook up foot switches and how to properly control motors.
He has worked at the same company for four years and hopes to continue after he graduates.
Chad Heise is in his fourth year at the school and lives in Lake Stevens.
“I appreciate the opportunity the apprenticeship has given to progress in my life. Prior to this, I didn’t really have any formal education, and this apprenticeship has allowed me to provide a life for my wife and myself.”
Heise said he enjoys the hands-on experience of the workshops, but most enjoys working with other people. His long-term goal is to pursue a managerial role as a foreman after working as a journeyman for a few years.
Cliff Hartman, an instructor at the apprenticeship school, told Lens that students are trained both through lectures and lab work. This varied training teaches them what to expect in the field.
“You can learn it from the book, but when you actually get to the components of it, sometimes (it) doesn’t quite follow the book…you need to understand how to make it work if things don’t go exactly the way you expect.”
The school’s boot camp prepares apprentices to work on the job when they begin taking classes, so employers don’t have to start training from the ground up.
Chris Boling is a full-time instructor at the PSEJATC school and teaches apprentices about codes, grounding and bonding (joining electrical conductors together), for third-year students. She told Lens that it’s beneficial for apprentices to work in the field while taking courses, as the wide scope of work available could require them to use many of the skills they are learning.
“Last quarter, I had a student come in and say, ‘the material you taught us…we are doing that at work right now’…. seeing that connection…it clicks because they are doing it on the job as well as learning it in school; that’s a really cool feeling.”
Boling was an apprentice herself who chose the trades over a college path, despite being college-bound in high school. She told Lens that her entire family worked in construction, and she graduated high school with double honors and college credits from the Running Start program.
“There was no money for school. My mom was a single mom…she was in the trades and said, ‘go pick a trade, you will be in school for five years, you will have a job for five years…but you will have money to put yourself through school and then you’ll also have a career to fall back on.’”
When asked about her decision to pursue the trades, she likes explaining how the extra money and security of her work allowed her to buy her first house at 23.
“You learn a trade, it’s a skillset no one can every take away from you. If you to do something else down the line, it’s okay to do that…there are so many avenues you can take once you get your license. Once you get that certification, the possibilities are endless.”