IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center Navigates Covid-19 Challenges

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At Missouri’s oldest electrical industry training center, restructured classes complemented by remote learning has become the “norm” in this era of Covid-19.  And as leadership at the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center monitors the pandemic with an eye to fully reopening classroom instruction this September, its blended learning model has provided insights to improve the program.

“Before the pandemic, we already had a robust blended learning program established with online coursework and homework,” said Dennis Gralike, director of training.  “The real challenge has been the hands-on lab instruction.  Conduit bending, work with motor controls and the like can’t really be done from home.”

To adapt, Gralike and his staff have resequenced classes to engage students in hands-on learning in smaller batches to accommodate social distancing.  Each student is provided a face mask and instructions on protecting themselves from the virus, essentially learning new safety protocols they will encounter on job sites.

The training center is now guiding 35 students through the final semester of their five years of training so they can graduate this summerThere are approximately 60 new apprentices who began work this year but are still waiting to start their classroom-related instruction.  The training center is jointly funded and operated by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1 and members of the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA).

“There’s been a tremendous interest in our training program since the pandemic hit,” noted Gralike.  “Applications are up about 20 percent.  Covid-19 has brought so much change and accentuated our dependence on disruptive technologies, such as remote learning and working, robotics and smart building technology.  Someone has to engineer, install and maintain that technology and that’s been our graduates.” 

Gralike also noted an improvement in the quality of applicants to the training center which he attributed in part to a long-time emphasis on STEM education by the IBEW/NECA Electrical Connection partnership.  Founded in 1993, the Electrical Connection has supported STEM education programs in public and private schools and through partnerships with the Saint Louis Science Center, Mathews Dickey Boys & Girls Club, the St. Charles Economic Development Center and other civic and educational organizations.

While the pandemic has created challenges for the training center, it has also helped improve instruction.  “The remote classes have given us insights on patterns of learning by individual students,” said Gralike.  “We can see which areas of instruction they are struggling with and better orient instruction to each individuals’ needs.”  Gralike said they will use what they’ve learned to refine instruction in the classroom setting.

What’s still unknown is how soon and in what manner high school career fairs will resume. “When they do resume, Dennis Gralike and his staff will be able to make any even more compelling case for electrical careers,” noted Jim Curran, executive vice president, Electrical Connection. “High school students, parents and teachers have lived the value of the technology we engineer, install and maintain that’s been providing reliable power and connecting a world in isolation.”

Located at 2300 Hampton Ave, the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center has trained more highly skilled and safe electricians and communication technicians than any education program in Missouri.  The five-year, 10,000-hour training program has a 90 percent graduation rate and an effective outreach program. For the last nine years, minorities have made up 25% to 40% of apprenticeship classes which start every 6 months.  The center also conducts continuing education classes for journey workers who want to keep pace with changing technologies.  In addition, the training center has education partnerships that offer college credits.

The training center is operated jointly by IBEW/NECA, which invests $3 million annually in training.  Training is free of charge with apprentices earning a living with benefits as they learn.  There are no student loans and there is no expense to taxpayers.

Through its Electrical Connection partnership, IBEW/NECA provides safe and reliable electrical construction, maintenance, repair and replacement services across Missouri, the nation and the world. Learn more at www.electricalconnection.org.

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