Electrician apprenticeships—A bright future abounds

High school graduates who feel that college is not for them are finding it tough in today’s market. Yet opportunities exist for those with good math backgrounds and a strong work ethic for a career as an electrician. After all, there aren’t many jobs in which you could be making well-above average wages like you can after completing an electrician apprenticeship, but few are taking advantage of it. Why?

“I think that there is some negative stigma about building trades, particularly from parents who don’t realize the career opportunities the field offers and are focused only on college,” said Ed Emerick, training director of the Youngstown Electrical JATC (Joint Apprenticeship and Training) Committee. “But let’s face it. College isn’t for everybody and there will be a shortage of qualified electricians as the Baby Boomers retire.”

(Watch videos of current and past apprentices and learn their stories)

The opportunities come courtesy of what Emerick describes as a “three-legged stool” consisting of the Youngstown JATC program, IBEW Local #64 and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) of the Mahoning Valley. The three jointly offer apprenticeship programs at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center for becoming either residential or commercial/industrial electricians. Residential apprenticeships run three years and consist of 160 hours of classroom training each year and a total of 4,800 hours in on-the-job training (OJT). Commercial/industrial apprenticeships are five years with minimums of 180 hours of classroom training yearly and 8,000 hours OJT.

“The beauty of this program is that after it’s completed and you acquire your journeyman certification, you will have work opportunities throughout the United States,” Emerick said. “I believe we are the best because we’re a facet of a nationwide program.” The training director added that every IBEW local participates in a JATC with a local contractor.

Tony Barber, a 22-year old Struthers resident beginning the fifth and final year of his commercial/industrial electrician apprenticeship, said the program has set him on a career path that he loves. “It’s a great program and a great opportunity,” he said. “The electrical business is booming right now and there are a lot of job opportunities.”

Barber said he especially values all of the on-the-job training the program offers. “You can’t match the experience,” he said.

Another program operated by the Youngstown Area JATC is “School-to-Work.” An instructor selects several high school students at the career center who have completed their junior or senior year and places them in a summer work apprenticeship. If they perform well, they can be placed in an apprenticeship program following their graduation.

Emerick believes that the economic growth offered by the shale boom in the Mahoning Valley will increase opportunities for electricians, especially those trained through the efforts of the contractors and the union.

“This is the best apprenticeship program out there and if people have the attitude, aptitude and are willing to work, this will open the door to a very bright future,” Emerick said.