The winter 2015 issue of the ConstructforSTL Journal featured the enduring and far reaching commitment by the IBEW/NECA Electrical Connection partnership to meet the needs of commercial/industrial construction while developing the workforce of the future and energizing entrepreneurship in St. Louis. Review the article below or by visiting this link.
Sustaining Technology in Construction By Dennis Gralike, Director, IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center
In an advanced manufacturing facility, the precision movements of robotics creates components for automobiles and trucks. All are tied into process controls installed and calibrated by the highly skilled team of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1 and the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). A few miles away, another IBEW/NECA team is creating a highly-detailed 3-D blueprint to strategically route a spaghetti-like sea of more than 300 conduits beneath a building, navigating around yet-to-be-placed structural piers for a data center. Nearby, another IBEW/NECA team is performing passive inter-modulation testing, required to certify distributed antenna systems (DAS) and cellular systems.
While all of these projects require an intense level of skill and safety, there is a deeper investment by IBEW/NECA to sustain it. Investment that connects its Electrical Connection partnership with the construction consumer to fully understand and be in a position to efficiently deliver on growing technology needs. And investment not only in training — now a $2 million outlay annually — but also outreach to advance STEM education, the first step on the pathway to sustain a skilled construction workforce and keep the nation competitive in a global economy.
Nowhere is construction’s reliance on technology to build our future more evident than with Building Information Modeling (BIM). While BIM is not new technology, until recently, it has only been embraced by the largest NECA contractors. But two years ago, NECA collaborated with the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA) to produce “Achieving Spatial Coordination through BIM–A Guide for Specialty Contractors.” Engineering News Record picked up on the significance in an article on the guide. “Those visionary MEP contractors who embraced BIM early discovered an important change in the rules: a lone capable contractor can no longer carry the team. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Success indicators for projects that require BIM are benchmarked by the contributions of the weakest construction team member. Consider the fallout when a contractor who fails to participate in the spatial coordination process has to install their systems in spaces that an MEP contractor who did participate reasonably expects to be available for field fabrication. The work of the coordination team is up in smoke, and a total re-design is required. RFIs and change orders are generated and the unbudgeted costs mount. Everyone loses.”
In the fall of 2015, the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center launched the next step and offered BIM training to journey workers, apprentices and contractors. By introducing BIM to field installers, IBEW/NECA is advancing project continuity and efficiencies by leveraging its contractors’ workforce’s experience in navigating and correcting engineering conflicts. The curriculum includes:
This investment in training begins with foresight that can only come with engaging the buyers of construction services and listening to their needs. That was evident in 2015 when the IBEW/NECA Electrical Connection partnership engaged in meetings with the Hawthorn Foundation and Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI) — Gateway Chapter. Since 2011, the Electrical Connection has listened carefully and been a voice for IBEW/NECA’s readiness to advance energy and technology needs for the Hawthorn Foundation’s statewide business membership. As a member of AUVSI, it is helping map out electrical infrastructure needs for the emerging unmanned vehicle systems industry. Likewise, the Electrical Connection keeps pace with business community needs through its board membership in the Missouri Energy Initiative. Missouri Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Readiness Committee, Univerdant Sustainability Network, LLC, U.S. Green Building Council-Missouri Chapter (USGBC) and the St. Louis Regional Chamber Energy and Environmental Committee. It is also actively involved in the Cortex Innovation Community, the Economic Development Center of St. Charles County and numerous advisory boards.
One advisory board position in particular highlights the depths to which the IBEW/NECA partnership is invested in seeing technology in the industry blossom — the Saint Louis Science Center. In 2015, IBEW Local One Business Manager Frank Jacobs became the first labor representative ever appointed to the Science Center’s advisory board. The outreach here is STEM education — a critical component to developing not only the workforce of the future, but the entrepreneurs of the future. Hence, the Electrical Connection supports the Science Center’s robotics programs, energy conservation initiatives and even sponsors its new lighting system for the James S. McDonnell Planetarium to enhance its well-deserved status as a place of discovery.
The Electrical Connection’s initial foray into STEM education targeted schools throughout the region with engaging presentations that matched STEM subjects with applications in the electrical industry. It also supported the annual FIRST Robotics Competition and has an enduring commitment to support Partners for Progress of Greater St. Charles and its annual salute to the best and brightest high school students in STEM subjects. That, in turn, has created an opportunity for the Electrical Connection to broaden its outreach by introducing the St. Louis Rams to the Partners for Progress STEM program. In April of this year, the Electrical Connection sponsored a St. Louis Rams STEM education event at Rams Park.
In a world highly dependent on technology, the St. Louis construction industry will be continually challenged to keep pace with evolving tech needs driving robotics, data storage, communications, healthcare and innumerable other industry needs — some that are still on the drawing board. Momentum is not only sustained by investment in training, but by foresight that listens to buyers of construction services and supports STEM education that is the very foundation of our future.
Dennis Gralike is director of the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center, which for more than 70 years produced more highly skilled and safe electricians and communication technicians than any other training program in Missouri.