Rchard Bermack Photography

Women electrical apprentices posing with large tools

International Brotherhood
of Electrical Workers,
San Francisco Joint Apprenticeship
and Training Committee
Organized Labor
October 2009

Electrical workers run miles of wires through tall buildings connecting up components, so that when someone flips a switch or pushes a button, lights go on and off, motors turn, and alarm systems get ready. But the trade is not just about connecting electrical appliances or providing electrical power to room outlets. It’s about working with people. More than any other trade, electrical work is about team work. “You may be running conduit through a ceiling and all of a sudden there is duct work in the way,” Training Director Steve Powers explains. “Duct work isn't going to move. You have to move your pipe. Electricians always have to move their conduit. You plan out and coordinate with the other trades, where you're going to run your installation, where they run theirs. So you don't just stick with electricians. You make friends with plumbers, carpenters, sprinkler fitters, whoever else is on the job. You'll see guys for years. It's a big family.” Teaching “soft skills,” like how to communicate with other trades and with consumers, is an important part of the apprenticeship program curriculum. Powers explains, “We teach them not just ‘how,’ but ‘why.’ Out in the field you are representing the union and the contractors, and you have to present yourself. The customer can be right across the hall and ask why you're doing this, and you need to explain it to them. And you can't do it in technical electrical terms, but you have to break it down so they understand. What you're putting in may be a sensor for a lighting system to turn it on and off at separate times. You show them how you're saving them money, and how you're wiring it, and how long it should work before the warranty runs out.”