Electrician/Apprenticeship Training Director – Mentor, Ted Jenkins
Ted Jenkins is a fourth generation electrician and the current Training Director of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (JATC) in Tulsa. There are 285 IBEW locals that help sponsor JATC apprenticeship programs in all fifty states. JATC apprenticeship programs are recognized as one of the best in the US. These apprenticeship programs allow you to earn a good wage plus receive benefits like healthcare and pension contributions while you are training. The IBEW also promotes diversity and encourages women, veterans and minorities to apply not just young people graduating from high school. Besides good pay and benefits, there is also the chance for advancement and like many skilled trades there is the opportunity to later start your own business as an electrical contractor. Because the baby boomers are beginning to retire, there is expected to be a strong demand for well-trained electricians who have completed JATC apprenticeship training.
Like most apprenticeship programs, the JATC’s begins in August of each year. But to be accepted, you must first submit an application, go through both testing and then an interview by the joint committee, which is made up of union members and contractors. This means that you should apply early in the year. Ted Jenkins describes the application process, the five-year apprenticeship program and the state licensing procedure as well as the wide variety of work done by an electrician. There is also contact information where you can call and talk to him directly about the JATC program.
Overview of the Trade
Electricians do all the electrical work for a new building beginning with running wire from the electrical pole into a building, installing new electrical wiring and components as well as doing the maintenance and repair of electrical systems in an existing building. Electricians also work with fiber optic cables, telephone and video cables and fire and smoke alarms. Besides buildings, some electricians also work wiring ships, airplanes, and other mobile platforms. Here are some of the types of facilities in the Tulsa area that our IBEW members have helped build or renovate:
- Major Regional Data Center
- Petroleum Refinery
- County Trash Recycling Plant
- Airline Maintenance Facility
- Power Generating Plants in NE Oklahoma
- Largest Office Building in Tulsa
- Sports and Entertainment Center
- Elementary Schools, High Schools and Colleges
- Hospitals and Medical Centers
All electrical journeymen are licensed by the individual states. To receive a state license, you must pass a comprehensive test. But just receiving your state license does not by itself guarantee you employment. Electrical contractors want people with work experience who have also been well trained to work efficiently and safely. That is why contractors work with the IBEW on developing the Joint Committee’s apprenticeship program so that the contractors know electricians graduating from our program meet the standards they require.
While electricians are licensed by each state, most states recognize licenses from other states. The local union halls maintain a list of available local electricians they call Book 1 and a Book 2 that lists traveling electricians. When large projects are being build in one area of the country there are often not enough local electricians so people travel from other parts of the country to fill these jobs. This could mean going to a city like New York when large projects like the World Trade Center were being rebuilt to a place like Pryor, Oklahoma where Google has built a large, regional data center requiring many more electricians than were available in the local area.
Another advantage of getting your journeyman’s license is that it stays with you for life. If you decide you want to try something else at some point, you can leave and if it doesn’t work out you can always come back and resume your career as an electrician.
The JATC apprenticeship programs run by the IBEW and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) meet US Department of Labor standards and are monitored by the agency. The JATC apprenticeship program lasts a total of five years and consists of classroom instruction as well as on the job training where the apprentice works under a journeyman’s supervision. The State of Oklahoma requires a total of 8,000 hours of training before you can sit for the test with 180 hours per year or a total of 900 hours consisting of classroom study. To meet this requirement in five years, apprentices are required to take classes twice a week for three hours at the IBEW training center in addition to maintaining a regular work schedule and have a passing grade of at least 80%. Here is a list of some of the subjects:
- AC-DC Electrical Theory
- Conduit Fabrication
- Electrical Codes and Procedures
- Pulling Wire
- Motor Controls
- Programmable Control
- Blueprint Reading
- Fiber Optics
- Conduit Fabrication
- Conduit Fill
- Communications Training
- Fire Alarms
- Safety and Tools
You are required to pay for your books, which cost about $500 each year. You must also buy your own hand tools, which cost $270. But there are reimbursement programs available under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that many will qualify for that will pay for your books and hand tools your first year as well as provide you a laptop.
You will be working at least forty hours per week on the job under the supervision of a journeyman generally within a 75-mile radius of the local union’s jurisdiction. Because you will have to travel to your work site, you will need reliable transportation.
Your pay starts at 50% of the rate of a journeyman and advances each year until you reach full journeyman pay once you are licensed. You will also be eligible for Blue Cross medical in your second year as well as three pension plans and an optional 401K. A journeyman’s pay for our IBEW local will be $30 per hour in 2017 with and additional $10 per hour in health and retirement benefits. So the equivalent hourly wage will soon be $40. Journeymen electricians working 2,000 hours per year would earn a base wage of $60,000 and receive another $20,000 in benefits for a total compensation package equivalent to $80,000. There are also opportunities for overtime pay when construction activity is strong that can push compensation to $100,000 per year. You can also be promoted to Forman where you supervise other journeymen. There are three levels of Forman depending on the size of the job and the number of people you are supervising that will increase your hourly rate between 10% to 30%. You can also take the contractors test once you have 10,000 hours of experience and become a contractor if you want to start and manage your own business.
How to Apply for Admission to the JATC Program
Go to the website for your local Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee. In Tulsa, that site is http://www.tulsajatc.org where you can contact us and ask for an application or call the training facility at 918-595-2929 and talk directly to me, Ted Jenkins, the Training Director. I will answer any questions you may have about the program and provide you with an application.
Once you have submitted an application, you will be required to take an aptitude test. The results of that test and your application will be submitted to the Joint Committee who will then interview qualified candidates. Those approved by the JATC are ranked and put on a list. There are about 100 people currently in the JATC apprenticeship program in Tulsa including five women, military veterans and minorities. Everyone interested in the apprenticeship program should apply early in the year for the next class that begins in August.
When you apply, you should know that the interview is important. Journeyman electricians interface with the contractor’s customers everyday and play an important role in maintaining good customer relations. So besides having good grades and a mechanical aptitude, it is important that you are a good communicator. Taking classes in high school in speech or some other classes where you have to learn to speak in front of people can help you improve your communication skills.
Taking vocational electrician training in high school can also give you an advantage. It shows how well you can handle the course material and your high school classes can be applied to the required classes in the apprenticeship program and will let you start your classroom studies at year two.
Make sure that you take basic algebra in high school. Algebra is important since you will be doing calculations every day for things like how much wire you can safely fit in a conduit. If you are weak in algebra, there are some online training programs you can take to sharpen your skills before classes begin. But you need to have the ability to do basic algebra to succeed in the apprenticeship program.
You should also know that the JATC and all contractors now do background checks and drug testing. Drug testing continues throughout your career. If you have a history of drug or legal problems, it will be difficult to be accepted to the program.
An electrician is one of the best-paid skilled trades. It is a career where you have the opportunity to work on a variety of projects and you are always learning something new. If you want to travel, there is the opportunity to work in other parts of the country and not just work in the area served by the local where you were trained. There is also the opportunity of go out and become an electrical contractor after you have gained experience if you have a desire to run your own business. But you must be willing to work hard and complete the five-year program. Most people who fail are not willing to put in the additional time at night taking classes after they have worked a full day on a job site. Make sure you are committed before you start. If you want to build office buildings rather than just sit in an office and have the opportunity to work on a variety of interesting projects, being an electrician is a good career choice.
US Bureau of Labor Statistic for Electricians
(Note: These BLS estimates do not include benefits which raises the compensation by about 25% for IBEW union electricians)
National estimates for this occupation base on 2012 surveys:
Employment estimate and mean wage estimates for this occupation:
|Mean annualwage (2)
|Wage RSE (3)
The median wage is the wage where half of those surveyed earned more than the median and half earned less. The top 10% earned over $85,590 dollars while the bottom 10% earned $31,170
Wages vary considerably by region. Large cites on the East and West Coasts had the highest salaries states around manufacturing centers as well as remote areas like Montana and Alaska. Here is a link to the page with the BLS maps that show wages by state: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes472111.htm