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Bob Martin: Hello, and welcome to the skilled trades career series on Imagine America Radio, where today we’re going to focus specifically on skilled trade careers. Joining us today is Jim Bologa, president and CEO of Porter and Chester Institute. Today we’d like to discuss the future of electrician careers. As a leading provider of education in electrical technician programs, we’re very pleased to have Jim join us today, and we’re also very honored to be showcasing Porter and Chester. Jim, welcome to the show.
Jim Bologa: Thanks for having me, guys. I’m excited to be here today.
Bob: It’s good to see you again. Let’s start off by giving the listeners just some basic information on electrical technicians. Can you briefly explain to us what they do on a daily basis?
Jim: Yeah. I think just simply put, electricians are tasked with repairing, installing, and maintaining control systems, lighting, communications, and electrical power in factories, businesses, and homes. And so there’s an aspect of new construction that they’re involved in, as well as maintaining existing construction. So again, they are the folks who are basically taking the electrical grid and taking all of the applications that we use in a high-voltage manner and connecting us to that electrical grid.
Lee Doubleday: Very cool. Now that we have a better understanding of what an electrician does, can you briefly explain the career opportunity for electrical technicians—and what does the Bureau of Labor Statistics say about the demand for electrical technicians in Connecticut?
Jim: Yeah. I mean, if you look at—just broadly speaking, the electrical field is growing because everything that we’re doing somehow is connected to electricity. So, when you look at the data, the data suggests that from 2020 to 2030, there’s a projected growth rate of about 9%. And so that translates into about 85,000 job openings across the country. And I would simply also suggest that, again, as we’re seeing more and more things become electrified, having that electrical experience is becoming important in a lot of different areas. Not necessarily just in the connectivity between the grid and factories and business offices and homes, but also we’re seeing more electric in electric cars, electric trucks. The field itself is expanding quite a bit.
Lee: Yeah, that’s a good point. And something that our listeners should think about is, like you’d mentioned, electric cars. I think everybody knows—and they see the Teslas all over the road and the Priuses and the hybrids, and it’s definitely moving in that direction. So that’s a great point you brought up. But now that we know electricians are in high demand, I have sort of a three-parted question for you. Number one, should someone go to school to learn to become a technician or electrician? And what would you say to someone that said, “Well, I can just learn how to be an electrician through an apprenticeship program. Why should I get a more formal education like the one offered at Porter and Chester?”
Jim: Yeah, I would say—we are really excited about our program. Our program allows a prospective student to basically get all the skills that they need in twelve months. And so, what we do with our students is they enroll in our program and twelve months later they’re generally going to work for an electrical contracting firm. And then what happens then is they start building their on-the-job apprenticeship hours that they need before they can sit for their journeyman’s license. So generally, throughout the country, there’s a multi-year apprenticeship that a person needs to go through. And so—for example in Connecticut, our students have to go through a four-year apprenticeship. Other states also have a four-year apprenticeship requirement. So again, if we spend—call it 2,000 hours a year working, you need to get 8,000 hours of on-the-job training underneath a licensed electrician, and then they vouch, obviously, for your experience and your time, and then you can sit for your exam and become a journeyman, and then subsequently you can move on to some other licenses as well. So again, it’s a field and it’s a career that is in really high demand. And again, we’re excited about it. We’ve got really, really, very cool industry-modeled labs where we train our prospective students in. So, we’re really, really excited about this program.
Lee: Great. And I think you said it’s twelve months long?
Jim: It is. Twelve months.
Lee: Okay. So, in a year. Got it. All right, now, if I’m a student and I’m interested in an electrician program, what are a few things that I should be looking for? Because it seems to me—and you mentioned this earlier—the equipment that the students are working on should be up to date. But what else is important? Is it that the school is accredited and relationship with employers— What would you say? Give me a quick checklist.
Jim: Yeah. Yeah, if I were looking, what I would first do is, one, make sure the school is accredited through, ideally, a national accreditor. We are—we’re accredited through ACCSC, which is a national accreditor, the accreditor institution. Two, I would take a look at the length of the program. How quickly can you get in and out of school? Because of the opportunity costs there. And then I would look at—I would go and take a look at their labs. Go and take a look at the physical labs where you’re going to be learning. And again, I think if you were to come into our labs, you’d be really impressed, because what we’ve been able to do is we’ve designed commercial environments, industrial environments, and residential environments. So, if you were to walk into one of our industry-modeled labs, you could walk into the residential where you would be able to work on a two-story stick house within our campus. Conversely, you’d be able to walk into the commercial lab and you’d be working with the materials that you would be exposed to in the real world when you go out and work, say, in an office building or possibly in a factory, and you’ll be dealing with different building materials. And so, again, what we’re doing is training folks in a hands-on way to replicate what they’re actually going to experience first day on the job. And then I would also say that the method of delivery of education has been changing a little bit with COVID. And, again, we’ve moved our electrical program to what we believe is the best of both worlds: lecture online and hands-on training in our industry-modeled labs on-ground. So, students in our programs will generally spend a few days, lecture online, and then they’ll come to our campus for two days—two twelve-hour days. So, they’ll spend about twelve hours, thirteen hours on lecture—and then they’ll spend about twelve hours on campus doing hands-on training. So, again, we found that to be really important. And again, our students, we encourage all of them that they’ve got to do schoolwork every day, they just don’t have to actually physically come to the school every day. And, so, it’s worked out well for them with that time-of-day flexibility. And then, lastly, in terms of employment, all of the folks who—all the prospective students who come to our school—I mean, what we’re trying to assess is their not only being able to benefit from the material that they are going to be presented and they can graduate, but more importantly, are they employable and are they open to that and is that the reason they’re coming for the education? And so, I would say that we have a large group of employers—literally, they call us—I mean, I get phone calls every week from employers in the electrical field, HVAC field, plumbing field, welding field, again, low-voltage electronics field, auto field. In terms of these skilled trades, I mean, we’re getting employers calling us every week. And we’re working with companies like Raytheon. Their Pratt & Whitney group is looking at trying to again get skilled labor into the manufacturing world. I mean, we’re talking recently with Lockheed Martin, another sort of household name. And again, a lot of the sort of well-known brand-name companies out there, as well as the regional companies and even some smaller companies. Those employers, they’re trying to replace their workforce right now. And again, they’re having situations where some of their employees are getting sick with COVID. They may not be able to return to work. They’ve got folks who decide to retire. They actually have more work than they know what they can do with right now. So there’s the organic growth in their markets as well. So those are the things that I would encourage prospective students and their families to take a look at, those four or five things.
Bob: So, Jim, let me just summarize. One is accreditation—absolutely critical. Porter and Chester across the board is accredited, nationally accredited by—I think you said ACCSC, am I right?
Jim: That’s correct. That’s correct. Yeah.
Bob: The second thing I hear is you should be looking at state-of-the-art or at least very modern educational environment where you’re going to be going into working on the most up-to-date stuff so that when you come out—when you graduate, you’re going to be working with people that are going to expect you to have that experience. The third thing I hear you say is relationships with employers, which is—that’s where the rubber meets the road. The mom and the dad are saying, “Okay, we’re spending this money for Junior to go. What’s Junior going to do?” Right? “What’s Junior going to be doing when he gets done?” And then finally, that whole opportunity cost. You can get them in and out and employed in a period of time that’s a reasonable—twelve, to fifteen, sixteen months—where they’re going to be making money, not spending money on their education. Would that be a fair summary?
Jim: I mean, and lastly, Bob, I would just add that our education delivery model—this hybrid or blended model—provides the students and their families with time-of-day flexibility. They have to do the schoolwork every day. But again, we believe that this is the model of the future that are going to help folks integrate their education into their life—their family life, their work life, and any other aspects of their life that they’re having to sort of deal with today.
Bob: Yeah, that’s a great point. I think there’s also a student expectation of that now that it’s going to be more of a hybrid—that kind of a delivery—after what we’ve all been going through. Now, Lee and I here at Imagine America, we talk to parents and guidance counselors on a very, very regular basis. And for the most part, what they’re looking for us to part is to get information that they can convey to their students, their family members about good careers and what it takes to be successful in this particular career. So, in the electrical career, what do you think are the two or three most important personality traits that an individual should have if they’re looking at this particular career choice?
Jim: I mean, I would encourage students who are going into this field—one, you have to have an open mind and you have to be open to change and innovation as we continue to go through—I’ll call it the electrification of sort of our world. I would just say a willingness to continue to learn and grow. I think that’s what we hear from employers. We also hear students need to work on their soft skills or their communication skills. So again, that’s another thing that I think as long as a prospective student has an open mind. Again, I think employers are looking for students not only to have that technical skill and a willingness to continue to learn and grow, but also to have those professional skills or those soft skills where they can actually if they have to interact with their fellow employee or interact with a customer, that they’re able to do that. And then lastly, I would just say that what we hear from employers are—they want folks who are really excited about becoming an electrician, and that tends to help them in terms of building a good culture and having younger—and it doesn’t have to be younger, but I’m just simply saying having some of these younger folks who are coming out of high school come into the workforce, and just having that sort of thirst or that excitement to really want to be an electrician. And I think that goes a long way in building good work environments for the internal customers as well as the external customers.
Bob: Well, you got us interested. Okay. So now this is your opportunity. What’s the appropriate path if someone is interested in electrician careers, they want to talk—they like what they hear from you on Porter and Chester and YTI. Where should they go and what should they expect from you?
Jim: Yeah, I mean, what I’d encourage everybody to do is go check out our website, www.porterchester.edu. There’s information on the website for students to apply. And then once they get into the application process, what we’ve done is we’ve actually digitized that process. But that doesn’t mean that the students aren’t going to necessarily talk to somebody. We’re willing to communicate with the student however they want to communicate. So, if a student wants to text or student wants to have an old-fashioned phone call or a student wants to have a Zoom meeting or communicate via email—and if the students want to come to the campus and check out our industry-modeled labs, which many of them are relatively brand-new—we would encourage all of those communication methods. Because, again, we want to meet students and the families where they’re at and so that’s why we’re providing all that. And then we do have some students who decide that they communicate with us back and forth in text and they complete the application process online by themselves and they don’t really need our help. But what we generally find is most families do have questions. And again, we’re here to help in any way that makes the most sense for us to communicate with prospective students and their families.
Bob: Yeah. However, they want to kick the tires of Porter and Chester, you’ll want to have them—whether it’s text, email, voicemail. You want to come in to see it? That’s fine. Come on and kick the tire. See what we’re all about, right?
Bob: Hey, Jim, we’ve had a great episode. Speaking on behalf of Lee, we want to thank you—Jim Bologa, president/CEO of Porter and Chester—for joining us today, talking about electrician careers. For more information, we’d encourage you to go to the Porter and Chester and the YTI websites. Jim has already given you that information. On behalf of the Imagine America Foundation and Imagine America Radio, we want to wish all of our listeners a great day. Thank you very much and have a great day.