Bridging the Divide: Electrical Connection Diversity Outreach & Workforce Development

The first step in bridging the divide that is stifling our region from moving forward is to use the assets we have in place.  St. Louis has that in the Electrical Connection labor-management partnership, which has also charted a path forward upon which optimism can be built.

The Electrical Connection IBEW/NECA partnership continues to creatively invest time and resources in strengthening the diversity of its skilled workforce development. Our highly skilled and safe electricians and communication technicians remain on the vanguard of responding to disruptive technologies.  It is this diverse workforce and their contracting partners who engineer, install and maintain the critical power and communications infrastructure that is even more essential now to conquer and coexist with pandemics.

James Jackson, IBEW Local 1 Journey Worker

Founded in 1993, the Electrical Connection strategically advances a more than 110-year-old partnership between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1 and the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) (see video). It represents more than 5,000 skilled electrical and communication workers and more than 150 contractors – including the biggest names locally such as Sachs Electric, PayneCrest Electric, Guarantee Electric, JF Electric and more.  Leading minority contractors include Aschinger Electric; TD4, LLC; BRK Electric; and J West Electric, which last year earned St. Louis County’s 2019 Minority-Owned Business Enterprise (MBE) Award. Much of the Electrical Connection’s focus is on diversity outreach and workforce development to build the next generation electrical and communications workforce. It includes:

A more than 75-year-old legacy of producing the highest skilled and safest workforce at the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center in St. Louis.  Training is not only free, but apprentices earn a living with benefits as they learn.  There are no student loans and there is no expense to taxpayers.

IBEW Local 1 Journey Worker and Training Center Mentor Kelly Stokes

Founded 46 years ago the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus launched its St. Louis IBEW chapter in 2004 to advance equal opportunity and employment for minorities at all levels of the IBEW structure and empower them to become active participants and leaders in the IBEW.  The St. Louis chapter mentors children served by the Missouri Division of Youth Services and for the past 15 years has donated more than 10,000 coats to families in need. For more information, email IBEW Local 1 Electrical Workers Minority Caucus President Sylvester Taylor II at [email protected].


Since the 1980s, IBEW/NECA has been a leading force in developing more effective outreach to broaden opportunities for minorities in construction. For the last nine years, minorities have made up 25% to 40% of apprentices at the training center. The training center has a mentoring program that produces a more than 90% graduation rate.

Left to right, Dustin Zimmerman, IBEW-NECA Electrical Industry Training Center instructor, and apprentice Trisa Newburn, who is now an IBEW journey worker electrician.

Pace setting skills are developed through a more than 70-course curriculum with advanced technology including a rooftop solar array and courses on Building Information Modeling and next generation electrical/communication installations, including green energy, smart infrastructure and advanced manufacturing.

 IBEW/NECA’s annual outreach includes more than 25 career fairs annually and has reached 12,000+ students in school districts with a significant minority student body.


Significant investment and partnerships in STEM education fortifies our commitment to a strong education foundation.  This includes the Saint Louis Science Center, St. Louis American, FIRST Robotics and other organizations to connect STEM subjects with electrical careers.  The investment/partnerships in STEM responds to an overall decline in applicants passing the training center entrance exam. Free online remedial courses in STEM subjects are offered to improve skills.


A media outreach strategy targeting the minority community with its “I am an Electrician” video and a yearly partnership with the St. Louis American that includes articles spotlighting:

o   Sustainable Careers in the Electrical Industry

o   Electrical Careers – Making Tomorrow Possible

o   Electrical Connection – A True Partner in Career Development


Ongoing support of the BUD Program and the Regional Union Construction Center (RUCC) to fortify the minority workforce and minority contractors. IBEW Local 1 Business Manager Frank Jacobs serves on the board of RUCC.


Leveraging its annual substantial community giving initiatives to creatively introduce construction careers.  That includes

o   Its support of the SHINE STL initiative to bring human-centric lighting to St. Louis Public Schools while also promoting careers in the electrical industry.

o   The Electrical Connection’s donation to the U.S. Probation Office’s Children’s Holiday Event funded gift giving to children of ex-offenders while also opening a potential career path in the electrical industry for the ex-offenders. 

o   Its annual support of Ferguson and St. Francois County “Shop with a Cop” holiday giving programs that also introduces electrical careers to underserved families in the region.

Sabrina Westfall of J. West Electric, right, earned St. Louis County’s

2019 Minority-Owned Business Enterprise (MBE) Award


Other outreach that exposes students to electrical careers includes the donation of 23 scoreboards to schools and athletic organizations locally.  That includes the Mathews Dickey Boys & Girls Club and McCluer South-Berkeley High School.

Donating services to improving low income homes and building new homes in minority communities, including:

o   Electrical improvements to more than 550 homes for low-income, disabled and elderly St. Louisans for Rebuilding Together St. Louis.

o   Safely wiring more than 180 new homes for Habitat for Humanity St. Louis.

The Electrical Connection diversity and inclusion initiatives have earned the IBEW/NECA partnership two awards:

o   St. Louis Council of Construction Consumers Inclusion Advocacy Award. 

o   St. Louis Regional Chamber’s Ameren Corporate Citizenship Award 

o   Construction Forum’s Working Relationships Award.


Many of the initiatives above to strengthen minority outreach and training came about during the depths of the Great Recession when IBEW/NECA increased its investment in training to more than $3 million annually, increasing the five-year training program from 8,000 hours to 10,000 hours.