Siemens Says…..

Since starting my apprenticeship back in July, I have learned that there are many facets to electrical work that I had never previously thought about, or if I did, never associated with electrical work. Since October, I have been on a project doing “control work”. When I was first sent to my current site, I had no idea what control work entailed. What I have discovered is a fascinating and unexpected corner of the trade that, quite frankly, I had never known to exist.

Before entering the trade, I was familiar with the panels in the utility rooms marked “Siemens”. I had noticed them….but never really given a great deal of thought as to what they did and what purpose they served. Now I understand that these simple looking panel enclosures house the brains of many complex functions. They can control everything from water flow to air pressure to ambient temperature in a space. Without these nerve centers, the apparently seamless operation of many commercial spaces would not be possible. The devices that regulate these operations would be useless without a control module or a Siemens module to tell them what to do.

We started by pulling our control wire. Seemed simple enough. Next, we learned to terminate the devices. Learning the different devices and their function was interesting, but nothing earth-shattering. Then I was given the opportunity to begin learning about panel termination. WHOAH!

This is where it all came together. First, we had to build the panel with the appropriate modules required by the panel schedule. Now things started getting deep. Learning how the modules take the information and interact with each other to send out commands, take status reports, change variables, and make everything flow together was the “light bulb” moment. Now we could begin actual termination. That’s when things really got wild. The different cables carried different types of signals. So now, you had to be sure that the cable carrying the status to from the valve or thermostat or damper to the module was correct and different from the wire that would be carrying the command from the module to the device. The complexity of the systems cannot be understated (or necessarily adequately described in a simple blog).

The control systems remind me of the nervous system in the human body. The movement of impulses through the cables to and from the panel made me think of nerve impulses to and from the brain. The devices that receive the commands and, in turn, send statuses, are like arms and legs that move to a command or send “feeling” back to the brain. So, for example, if the Siemens panel module reads or “feels” from a device that the air pressure is too high or too low, it will send a command to the corresponding damper to open or close as needed to correct the problem. It’s kind of like a hand getting too hot and the brain telling it to pull away before it gets burned!

I feel truly fortunate that the journeymen and foreman that I work with have so much experience in this specialty and are so generously willing to take the time to explain the operations of the different devices and modules to me and the other apprentices on our site. I am grateful to be able to benefit from their experience and patience and look forward to learning more about this exciting part of our trade!

Paying My Dues

Hello! My name is Mary and I am a first year apprentice with Local 26. The last 7 months of my life (which could also be classified as the first 7 months of the rest of my life), have been an awesome ride.

I haven’t been to school in a student capacity in a really long time. This was a little scary, but something that I was really looking forward to. I love learning, and the opportunity to learn new things was very exciting. I have really been impressed with how hard the instructors work to help us succeed. If you have the “want to”, they really try hard to help you get the “can do”. They even do tutoring after hours. The interest that they take in your success when you take responsibility for it is amazing. When I was in college, I felt abandoned and set adrift. Here, I feel like we are in this together. It has been a great experience and even when I don’t understand something, I am confident that I can go to someone who will help me understand. I feel like I am part of something bigger than me.

When I decided to change my career, it was not something that I undertook lightly. I came from a completely different industry in an office environment and had risen to supervisory levels. To start over as an apprentice was a huge change, but one that I understood had to be approached both mentally and emotionally as well as physically. My father had worked in this trade and my husband has been a proud member of Local 26 for many years now. I had a good idea of what a day in the life of an electrical worker entailed, but seeing is a whole lot different from being.

I have often heard people refer to the apprenticeship period as “paying your dues”. When I embarked on this journey that is my apprenticeship, I did so with the idea that no task was to be taken for granted because I am “paying my dues”. But I never appreciated the true reward of “paying your dues” until a few days ago.

I went to the union hall to pay my actual union dues. It was New Year’s Eve, so a lot of folks were there doing the same. As I was leaving, holding my dues receipt in my hand, I met a group of gentlemen who were entering to pay their dues. All greeted me a “sister”, and one in particular held the door for me and indicated that even though he wasn’t working, he was still paying his dues. He was joyful and wished me a happy New Year and a happy Kwanzaa. All were talking and laughing with a comradery and spirit of friendship that I had never experienced before in my entire working life. But the part that truly inspired me, was that they included me in this. In that moment, I understood that “paying your dues” isn’t just something we do, it is something we become.

When we pay our dues, we become part of something bigger than ourselves. We become part of a brotherhood (even if you are a sister) that cares about us. I thought back to all the journeymen and other apprentices who have taken me under their wings and showed me how to do things, explained tasks or procedures to me, and made me feel welcome since I have been here. I have had a job since I was 15 years old (my feminine vanity will not allow me to go into how long ago that was), but in all that time, I have never experienced anything quite like this…..and all because I am willing…and have been given the opportunity….to pay my dues.