ST. LOUIS – For Dennis Gralike, director of the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center, the need to change the mindset of skilled labor development is abundantly clear at many high school career fairs. “I’ll enter a gymnasium and find colleges set up on one side of the gym and everyone one else directed to set up on the other side,” notes Gralike. “Then I’ll ask the career fair coordinator why colleges and the trade programs are separated. After all, our program offers college credits and we train a lot of college students and graduates, all free of charge and with no student loans.”
Gralike was among four panelists in the March 27, 2019 St. Louis Business Journal “Future of Skilled Labor Development” Power Breakfast moderated by Publisher Robert Bobroff. Bobroff said a record 240 people attended the event at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur, Mo. Other panelists included Bonnie Daniels, senior vice president, culture and people services, MiTek; Jeff L. Pittman, PhD, chancellor, St. Louis Community College; and Sandra Marks, senior vice president, Clayco.
All panelists agreed that collaboration and partnerships among community agencies, businesses and schools remains essential to skilled labor development. But no industry is being more rapidly transformed by technology than the electrical and communications industry. Gralike noted that the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center is continually adapting its more than 70-course curriculum to meet those changes as it has for more than 75 years. Through the Electrical Connection partnership, the training center is funded and operated jointly by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1 and the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA).
“The digital age, smart infrastructure, renewable energy, robotics, advanced manufacturing, integrated communications and so much more are not possible without the skilled electricians and communication technicians we train,” said Gralike. “But there remains a significant stigma attached to construction work that puts off high school students and other career aspirants. We have a more than 90 percent graduation rate that launches dynamic, well-paying engineering and building careers that power and connect our businesses and communities – and it’s free of charge!”
Gralike noted that Electrical Connection’s IBEW/NECA leadership is working to change the mindset on construction careers in several ways:
· Investing in and supporting STEM education that connects science, technology, engineering and math to electrical careers.
· Offering continuing education to advance pace setting skills, including 58 hours of college credits through education partnerships with St. Louis Community College and most major university in St. Louis area.
· Educating career counselors and students about the dynamic changes in the industry with training center technology that includes a rooftop solar array and courses on Building Information Modeling and next generation electrical/communication installations, including green energy, smart building technology and advanced manufacturing
· Broadening outreach by partnering with community organizations to attract more minorities in the electrical trades. More than 25 percent of apprentices at the training center are minorities
· Mentoring programs that strengthen career development and help aspiring entrepreneurs launch their own electrical and communications contracting firms.
· Strategic outreach to engage business and civic organizations, including board service on the Hawthorn Foundation, St. Louis Regional Chamber, the Missouri Energy Initiative, the Economic Development Center of St. Charles County and the Missouri Governor’s Workforce Development Task Force.