“In order to be competitive, we have to be better than anyone else,” - Glen Drewes, Business Manager, IBEW Local 402.
It’s no secret in the the industrial/commercial infrastructure industry that if you want the safest, most reliable electricity work available, you have to hire IBEW electricians.
“In order to be competitive, we have to be better than anyone else,” says IBEW 402’s Business Manager, Glen Drewes.
This level of excellence is not automatic; it’s something IBEW Locals invest in heavily. With dedicated training facilities and intensive apprenticeship programs, the IBEW has simply put more effort into training for skills and safety.
Toronto’s Local 353 and Thunder Bay’s Local 402 have both recently completed construction on new, expanded training facilities.
The state of the art Thunder Bay facility, completed in August 2017, is already slated for additional upgrades extending through 2020.
“Our new building takes advantage of power over ethernet efficiencies, which also means we’re well positioned to move forward as technology continues to develop,” said Drewes. “How we wire buildings is changing. If we don’t keep up we’ll lose out.”
The 12,800 square foot facility has a large workshop teaching environment with a 24’ ceiling. It contains the stations apprentices will need to get hands-on learning for the 276 different electrical skills they need to know. It also has a second story containing classrooms and offices.
Amongst the upgrades planned are virtual reality simulators for welding and wiring transformers. This will not only reduce training costs in the long term, as welding supplies are costly, but it will help ensure apprentices have a safer learning environment.
“They will see it, hear it, and feel it in complete safety before they go to the real thing,” explains Drewes. The transformer simulator, for example, will produce realistic sparks, smoke or even explosions for the learner wearing the goggles, should they make an error.
“Our number one goal is to protect public safety and the safety of our workers. This technology will help ensure we keep meeting that goal, no matter how technology changes.”
Training apprentices in Northern Ontario’s rural environment has different challenges than in more urban areas.
For example, in Toronto, Local 353 uses a job awareness program to ensure candidates understand and enjoy the manual aspect of the work, and can cope with outdoor construction environments.
Drewes explains, “Up here, most people are very familiar with hands-on work and outdoor environments. Where we come in is ensuring promising candidates have the math and physics they need to make excellent electricians.”
“We also take the time to help really smart candidates shore up any gaps in their education, on a case-by-case basis.”
Some of the classrooms are used to ensure that algebra, trigonometry, physics and English skills are up to par.
“I like to say that once we decide a candidate has the right qualities, we can take that person and make them a world-class electrician,” says Drewes. “Our process really works: 99% of our apprentices complete their training and become certified journeypersons.”
Some of the classroom training takes place in the new facility, but Northern Ontario’s lower population density means other inventive solutions are required.
The internet has come in extremely handy. “We have distance-ed programs that incorporate online solutions. This allows us access to talent on First Nations reserves, for example.”
The training facility will also benefit journeypersons who want to upgrade their skills as technology changes.
“Our members have done a lot of work that is very technologically advanced,” says Drewes. “The contractors who employ our members help keep us up to date with their needs. But if you’re not with the IBEW, there’s nowhere you can go to learn how to take advantage of the latest technology.”
Thunder Bay is a community in transition. In the past, much of the area’s economy relied on paper mills, most of which have closed. Some mining has taken its place, and the area is still a cross-Canada shipping hub, but the community is looking for business development.
Drewes feels his new facility will help ensure prosperity for Thunder Bay as a whole. “Our members make a decent wage, and they invest it right back into our communities. Best of all, we are happier people because we absolutely love the work.”