The NJATC has developed standardized training to educate members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and provide the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), and the electrical construction industry, with a skilled workforce. The training spans a five-year period and consists of 900 hours of related supplemental instruction on application and theory, and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training working with NECA contractors. The NJATC has trained over 350,000 apprentices across America to journeyman status without cost to the taxpayers, Purper says.
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Purper and the NJATC in the Inland Empire work closely with IBEW union locals 440 and 477. Together they cover a large geographic area. There are approximately 350 currently enrolled apprentices and Purper, as the director, coordinates the program with contractors, the union leadership, his staff, instructors and their students. The program is free to the students, he says, and the NJATC pays for the first year of schoolbooks. The cost is further offset by contractor contributions based on the student’s hourly pay. While working in the field, students earn a livable wage including benefits negotiated by NECA and the IBEW. The contractors participating in the program only employ union electricians.
Purper explained that by the time their apprentices graduate from the program many of them are already supervisors. “These people have been working next to journeymen electricians in the field,” he said, “and they get all the benefits of their experience.”
The NJATC program is standardized throughout the United States, although they look at the changing needs of the consumer and adjust accordingly, Purper says. The curriculum originates by committee from their Washington office, which identifies and incorporates new technologies along with tailoring the program to regional needs.
Green energy is a current focus in the program, but one that the NJATC has been following for over a decade. Advances, like electric vehicle charging stations and photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, are becoming a larger part of the new technological landscape and Purper says it is necessary to have a skilled workforce on the job installing and servicing them.
“It’s very important for the community. You shouldn’t have someone take a one-week course in photovoltaics and then install them on your house. They (PV panels) are essentially power plants. You want somebody up there who knows exactly what they’re doing,” Purper says.
One program that Purper and the NJATC are proud of, “Helmets to Hardhats,” provides veterans returning home with preferential treatment and advanced interviews to gain access to the apprenticeship program.
“We’re very pleased with the applicants that we’re getting. A lot of them have advanced technical training. We’ve had stellar applicants, and it’s a nation-wide program. I think virtually everybody that comes out of the military now is aware that this is an avenue that they can pursue. The IBEW will welcome them with open arms,” Purper says.
The NJATC is also involved with the issue of fire safety, and sponsors a series of classes devoted to electrical safety for first-responders. They provide equipment and training tools to educate fire fighters dealing with hazards, such as structure fires involving PV panels and downed power lines.
“There is a specific process you have to go through to protect first-responders,” Purper says. “We’ve actually had letters from fire chiefs saying we’ve saved lives because of our training.”
Purper says the apprentices in the NJATC program are not a burden to taxpayers because they are earning while they are learning. Each year, participants pay in excess of $600 million in taxes. He says their graduates provide a valuable service to an ever-changing technical world, while earning a fair and competitive wage that adds up to a “lifelong career, not merely a job.”