Electrical Connection Develops High-Tech Careers

As appeared in the St. Louis American

Trisa Newburn’s career derailed when the Great Recession closed her massage therapy business. She needed something sustainable. Something she could grow into to fulfill aspirations. She found it at the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center. For more than 70 years, the training center has energized careers on the cutting edge of the nation’s rapidly changing electrical and communication needs.

Left to right, IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center instructor Dustin Zimmerman explains an electrical application to apprentice Trisa Newburn.

Newburn, 46, was led to the training center by her husband Herbert, a 20-year journey worker with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1. “I have loved it ever since,” said Newburn. “I’m always learning something new and I like working with my hands.”

There is pride in that work too. “Every time I drive by IKEA, I see it as a technological achievement that I helped build,” said Newburn. “I installed some of its solar panels. It’s still the largest rooftop solar array in Missouri!” Today, you’ll find Newburn working on Washington University’s Bryan Hall renovations. She’s also worked on the school’s Brown Hall renovations and Saint Louis University’s SLU Commons residential hall.

Newburn is about 70 percent through her 10,000 hours of training, earning a living while she learns while gaining valuable experience. She reflects the growing diversity of IBEW’s St. Louis workforce. Over the past five years, 25 to 37 percent of the apprentices selected have been minorities. IBEW through its Electrical Connection partnership with the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) operates the training center.

The training center’s 78-course curriculum produces pace-setting skills and safety essential for advanced manufacturing, the digital age, cybersecurity, renewable and traditional forms of energy. In 2011, when the electric vehicle industry needed reliable fixed charging stations, the training center developed an Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program. It has since expanded curriculum to help the cell phone industry safely grow connectivity and help businesses comply with FAA regulations of drones. This year, the training center entered an education partnership with St. Louis Community College to earn associates degrees.

“Lifelong learning is important, said Newburn. “The Electrical Industry Training Center can advance your career in a number of directions.” That path of discovery is supported by a mentoring program where apprentices are paired with experienced journey workers. It is one of the primary reasons the training center has graduation rate of 90 percent.

“I understand so much now with the help of experienced workers. I am now mentoring first and second year apprentices,” said Newburn. “For example, safety training is important and can be a little intimidating. But you’ve got to impress upon apprentices that you have to be safe, not only to protect yourself, but your coworkers.”

Newburn’s aspirations have been energized by the training center. Now that she has a sustainable career, she wants to one day have a sustainable home powered by green energy with a garden and place to retire with Herbert and watch their four boys grow their own careers.

For more information on careers in the electrical industry, visit www.electricalconnection.org.