Training the Next Generation of Electrical Contractors

Statistics

A 2015 survey by National Association for Business Economics found that the United States was constantly facing a shortage of skilled workers. The investigated fields included electrical engineering, and it was revealed that there was a huge void of skilled electrical personnel.

The National Association of Homebuilders also estimated a staggering 200,000 unfilled construction jobs in the U.S in the past two years, many of whom who work in the electrical field. These numbers continue to climb. Therefore, it is time that we spend some of our resources training the electrical contractors of the future.

There is a range of core competencies and abilities that must be integrated into our next generation. While the training is by no means limited to these few skills, they do provide a good foundation, a benchmark for progress in the right direction.

Buttons, Codes and a Steep Learning Curve

When a new hire first starts his or her job, they are immediately surrounded by a storm of buttons, levels, valves, codes and so many unfamiliar technical terms and jargon. There always seems to be a dearth of documentation to teach not only the basics but the specifics of each operation.

 Experienced workers never have enough time for training these young contractors. The sheer amount of information is overwhelming. When this happens, what is the best practice to deliver vital information?

The learning curve can only be tackled through a combination of various approaches.

One of the best methods developed relatively recently was the creation of tutorial videos. Instead of sitting through boring and long presentations, most training videos are deliberately kept short (5 to 10 minutes) and cover only a handful of concepts. One small video could cover, let’s say, a common electric panel found in the facility and demonstrate the basic practices around it. The scripts for the videos must be written by experts and experienced personnel to ensure technical accuracy and closeness to practical systems.

Videos are re-usable, they do not take long to shoot and of course, they add to a library of resources for each facility. Often, newer employees do not know what the standard electrical practices are at their new place of work, and video presentations provide the help they need to understand how things operate and what is expected from them.

New electrical contractors can easily relate to the images and practices they see in the videos, since the methods directly relate to what they are doing. After a short video training session, the onsite professional can always give more details as required. New contractors can go back to videos in case of any confusion, and the experienced workforce does not need to take more time out to train the novice.

Passing the Tips and Tricks

As skilled workers and contractors retire, they must pass on handy tips and tricks to the new electrical contractors. Most experienced professionals are glad to have seminars once a quarter or so to share their decades of expertise.

Consider when you must replace a circuit breaker in an electrical panel at a facility. The replacement must match the specifications of the old electrical breakers. A new worker likely would contact a superior and ask for documentation on the panel and the used breaker.

However, as many contractors know, the nameplate on many electrical devices deliver the crucial information necessary for replacement. In the case of a circuit breaker, the nameplate would have data, such as Amperage, the number of poles, Voltage class, temperature rating and breaking capacity. All are important details that are readily available to a worker.

If any further information is required, a catalog number is typically also printed on the electronic device. Similarly, it is important to find reliable electrical part suppliers and establish long-term relationships with them. Sharing network contacts and suppliers along with customer information is important for the smooth transition of a new employee or intern in any industry.

This is the sort of training that is invaluable to a new contractor and is not necessarily taught in school. The sooner he or she learns this, the more effective they become.

Tips like these are typically not cemented in young minds, and therefore, reiterating them in seminars can help spark a solution later. Separating book knowledge from the day-to-day practicalities of working is critical. There are dozens if not hundreds of such tricks, particularly in designing and diagnosing of electrical frameworks, and it is important to pass them on to save time and cost.

Professional Training Programs

Just like in management, electrical contractors must attend seminars and learn the new practices in the industry. This idea is also applicable to the training of new contractors, as well.

Organizations, such as the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC), collaborate to have vocational training programs for new members of the electrical community. Companies and organizations can donate not only the time of their experienced employees but also resources, such as the video training libraries.

Encouraging these training programs is a practical step towards creating a generation of electrical contractors who have the habit of sharing vital information in the same manner to new colleagues. The interaction and exchanges and the questions raised at these training programs not only help the young members but also the experienced workforce.

All scientists and researchers have regular conferences and programs where ideas are exchanged. The electrical contractor’s community has just begun making strides to promote an exchange of information at similar, annual or bi-annual conferences dedicated to the electrical contractor field.

One great example is the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (JATC). This initiative trains electrical and telecommunication workers from contractors of Local Union 26 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). By implementing a shared value model, these contractors help each other in a progressive relationship to create a race of future skilled workers and communities.

The Re-use of Electrical Equipment

Electrical equipment can be expensive. It must last for years. In a generation that comes from a background of changing phones and televisions every year, and swapping out the kitchen and other appliances every couple years, the electrical contractors of the future must realize the importance of the re-use of electrical equipment.

The United States produces more electronic waste annually than any other country, totaling more than 10 million tons. While there is no official system for the regulation of electronic waste in the United States, there are several bodies devoted to this cause, including the National Strategy for Electronic Stewardship, co-founded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The question many young contractors face is why buy used electrical equipment. The answer is very simple. Most of these obsolete electrical equipment is not faulty, but the obsolescence is created when companies produce a more sophisticated, technologically improved model and halt production of previous versions. This doesn’t mean, though, that a company or organization needs the latest and greatest.

A great example is circuit breakers which are often sold, bought and reused in different projects. Reconditioned circuit breakers, manufactured as far back as the 1980s, can still be used in many electrical frameworks. Sure, the new models come with smart and intelligent features, however, most small scale applications in U.S. do not require these modern breakers.

Electrical contractors should learn to browse online for refurbished breakers on sale and to check if they meet the project requirements. This saves not only a lot of cost on the project, but also the environment from more electronic waste.

Similarly, contractors can buy used electrical equipment of all types and apply them safely in their new projects. Naturally, there are some important policies for buying used electrical equipment that must be addressed. This is all part of the wisdom that must be passed on to the next generation of electrical contractors.

Constant Learning

As an electrical contractor, the first practice must be to continue the learning curve. In a world that is continuously progressing, halting at a certain point essentially translates to moving backward. Many experienced professionals emphasize the importance of constant learning in their long careers.

Learning cannot be accomplished efficiently by withholding information. Through collaborative efforts among contractors and companies, you can plan and implement a continuous learning program. Sharing of information builds relationships, solves several recurring problems and, of course, facilitates the learning curve.

The third most important practice that must be passed on is the practice of innovation. Peter Drucker is the father of innovation and management. He wrote that innovation is not limited to creative minds or entrepreneurs but can be taught as a skill. The skill of systematic innovation present progress and motivation and should be given to the next generations.

Documentation and Communication

Engineers and electrical contractors are by nature technical people. However, unfortunately, they are often not good technical writers. Documentation and written communication is a crucial part of being a good contractor. Human error in large projects often comes from poorly written instructions, incorrect drawings and blueprints and essentially bad writing.

Not only does documentation help increase the efficiency of future projects, but it also helps keep track of your own progress as a professional. Often, electrical contractors face similar problems and hurdles in different projects.

Filing a progress or review report means solving problems much quicker and with more confidence. These reports make it easier for delegation to newer members of the team. Instead of re-discovering the wheel every time, documentation and reporting reduce losses due to repeated errors, delays, reworks and variations.

Electrical engineering documentation includes the specifications, drawings, illustrations and the ability to convey ideas and observations. It is difficult to master all areas for a single contractor, but proper documentation is crucial, and the new generation must learn technical writing for electrical contractors.

The documentation and reports also serve the purpose of training material for new contractors. It can be extremely difficult to impart knowledge to younger contractors entering the field.

Many important points can be forgotten or difficult to relate to the current project. However, project reports and design documentation provides easy teaching material and notes to educate the new employees.

A solution with great documentation can easily delegate its implementation. This works well rather than the original contractor being present at the site. It translates to better and faster creation of efficient resources and an excellent, capable team.

Going Beyond the Workforce

 

Training the new electrical contractor once you employ him or her is important. But is it more beneficial to have a young trained professional who has been studying and practicing since their teens? Why not extend training programs to high school students and let them follow a course of study through college? Or if they choose, continue in technical school?

Going beyond the workforce creates a generation that’s ready for the electrical contractor’s community. This method also instills the valuable practices to succeed in any industry. How do you make quick decisions? Where do you find correct and reliable information? How do you document and report? How do you spend time efficiently on the job? Annual seminars into the future generation of the country can integrate all these practices.

Conclusion

A U.S. Department of Labor study revealed that 50% of the country’s electric utility workforce was expected to retire by 2025. It’s important to train our future generation of electrical contractors in order to replace a huge number of electrical personnel.

It’s a difficult job to replace the expertise and experience of retiring workers, but it is vital for our progress. Learning the correct practices and procedures is easy, but it is also important to teach the right attitude and approach.