This week I started on a new project. It is a project in D.C. It is also a fast track project. Fast track meaning, the expectation is that work will be done quickly to make an early deadline soon after the new-year.

The job is under a foreman, that I’ve known from early on in my apprenticeship, whom I got the opportunity to finish up another project with this year…with all the usual suspects: sub-foremen, fire alarm techs and lead mechanics. Hey, a good crew is a well oiled machine and I am glad to play my position.

Early in the week, when we came up on break-time I was in the elevator along with an apprentice and a woman who was on the floor with us who had been walking and observing. At that point I was unaware of who she was. As we went down to the ground floor a brief conversation took place with the lady asking what our status was on the project and if we were union etc…when I replied that we were electricians and we were union her response was highly positive; she then acknowledged herself as being involved with the project as one of the senior project managers on the government side.

Two things had made an impression on me about this project….first that we were up and running on the job so quickly. The transition was so smooth being a lot of us had been working in the same system for a while. The second was that the project management had such a positive view of union contracting.

Impressions…you never get a second chance to make a first impression…the old saying is a true saying. How do others look at us? Is it hands down supportive or positive? Is it totally negative? Whatever the case may be, it is based on an experience. You never know what kind of impression your work ethic, organization skills, craftsmanship or how you conduct yourself leaves with anyone…something to think about.

I believe that leaving a good impression starts with how we conduct ourselves, how we view ourselves and our environment. Do you look at yourself as an electrical professional? Are you a wiener or a winner….a killjoy or a joy to work around? Are you selfish or selfless? An apprentice asked me a question…”when I was an apprentice did I have a problem with being called /treated as a helper?” I don’t think so because I didn’t view being a helper as being a negative thing.

How do you view yourself, your environment, and the work you do? What kind of impression do you leave?

The Art of Survival

I’m not going to lie. These are tuff -tuff times. This current economical environment wasn’t my idea of circumstances that I would have picked to become a fresh Journeyman Electrician in. But don’t take this statement as any kind of discouragement from me. I know a lot of guys whom I came out of my time with, who are currently out of work. I know a lot of guys, who have the ability to travel as Journeyman and they are working; there are a few who are currently in Iraq. I consider myself lucky because currently I am working and I am just trying to survive.

When I was a 2nd year apprentice I had two instructors who had expressed to us the reality of recession coming in our near future. I don’t think anyone of us realized it was coming so soon. Their stories, on how they made it thru, are examples I use as an outline on how to survive in times like these. I mean it wasn’t a shock and I felt prepared for it for the most part but can you really be prepared for bleak economic times?

There are lessons to be learned in any given situation. When you get to know who you are working with you develop relationships and shared experience can be more than just electrical technique in this trade. I would rather gain from someone’s experience who has been thru it than trying to figure it out on my own.

There are brothers and sisters who have seen similar times like this before. We are all feeling it. What I feel that is unique, is running into brothers who were project managers and brothers who were running big jobs…and working along side with them now having a chance to pick their brain. Here are a few gems of wisdom from all that I am taking in.

1st and foremost live within your means. We make a good living but just because you can afford the monthly payments on it doesn’t necessarily mean you should sign your name to it. And definitely don’t spread your finances thin.

Invest and save. A foreman told me that he still lives like his wages are a 5th year’s but everything extra he makes he puts away.

Don’t be afraid to travel. The golden rule is to treat others like you want to be treated but the silver rule is by all means try to keep coin in your pocket. If there are jurisdictions where there is work, as a Journeyman, you can go there and sign the book at the specific local and receive a referral.

The most important gem to me was that “it will pass we’ve seen [recession and job loss] it before and we’ll see it again”….. Endurance – the ability to withstand hardship or adversity; especially : the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort.

Into the fall…

It has been an interesting summer as a first year Journeyman. The challenges have been real, and the responsibilities–real but rewarding. I find myself referring back into what I have learned in dealing with some scenarios I see on the job. Just having a solid foundation of electrical concepts to stand on, a uniform way to operate…and the “network” is helpful.

The “network” is a collection of my classmates, lead Journeyman, foreman, project managers, superintendents….even a safetyguy who I can call on for advice in situations where I have questions….or the other way around…..or even just to say “hey” and laugh with for a second.

Believe me, I’ve had to use code knowledge, calculations…. sizing over-current protection and wire, and know how of various motor control applications already….and to think there were some in the field who told me, some of these things “I wouldn’t need, cause I’d never see em” and it’s not even a year and I am seeing “em”…plus much more.

In the middle of all this “newness” I got the chance to teach a few classes of bootcamp to this years incoming apprentices. I could see myself and a few of my friends in those seats….and in teaching the electrical basics…I gave a piece of me just like my instructors and a few good journeyman gave me a piece of themselves…from these apprentices I received a fresh viewpoint and that eagerness…it is all a circle….skill, knowledge and attitude…on so many levels.

This fall I become a student again. I decided to take some continuing education classes to stay on top of my game. Someone told me that you don’t really start learning until you come out of your time…that statement is nothing but the truth…

Let’s Fast Forward into the First Week of August….

When I last wrote, I was two weeks into being a Journeyman Electrical professional. The responsibilities are on another level but I totally feel my training has made me rise to the occasion.

Let’s Fast Forward into the First Week of August….

Here I sit with the tremendous honor of blogging from the N.J.A.T.C ‘s N.T.I at University of Michigan as a the Outstanding Apprentice for 2009 from local 26’s J.A.T.C.

”What? Where? ”That’s pretty much what my foreman said when I told him I was leaving for a week to go to N.T.I. Let me explain…this is the 20th year of the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee’s (N.J.A.T.C.) National Training Institute (N.T.I.). This also happens to be the first year that N.T.I is being hosted in Michigan. N.T.I. is basically continuing education on the latest trends in the electrical field, primarily for instructors. This is a collection of over 1,900 of the United States, Canada and additional IBEW territories, finest electrical minds. It is a tradeshow/ convention/ higher learning collective held this year from August 1 – 7, 2009

Saturday 8/1/2009: Today we flew out in the early morning and arrived in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Registration was at the tradeshow hosted by the NTI featuring various electrical vendors…huge.

Sunday 8/2/2009: This morning there was an Outstanding Apprentice Meeting….out of 4000 apprentices nationwide, we were a group of 34… The push for excellence in this industry is amazing and to be sitting among the best in the field is humbling; and later to be recognized as a part of this group, in front of the 1,900 plus industry professionals was truly a source of pride.

Monday 8/3/2009: This was the first day of classes. I am taking a leadership class and a film editing class. Our strength is in our training and you can see why…the instruction is on the highest level….every NTI instructor is an expert in the field with multiple years of experience in positions or doctorates in their fields or both.

Tuesday 8/4/2009: Today we discussed the topic of cliques and “gang box lawyers” and how this is affecting our push toward excellence across jurisdictions. Cliques being the “in group”, who put themselves above the Union and the brotherhood. “Gang box lawyers”, that guy who tells you “Awww, don’t worry about learning that technical stuff. You’ll never use it in the field”

The fact is, neither the Union, nor the contractor benefits from this attitude, and what is affected truthfully is production, training and our market share of work.

Every Electrician I talk to here, weather it is from our local or it is members from other jurisdictions; the message is the same. “Be the best that you can be. Stay humble, don’t be afraid to make mistakes but learn from them. Learn period. Keep learning and give back to the Union that has given you so much.” Our strength is in our training. Our push has to be nothing less then excellence across the board. I get it….

Two weeks in…

Today marks two working weeks that I have been an A Journeyman Electrician. This is the top of the game. Without a doubt I am expected to have a total grasp of the concept of electrical work. At first I was a little nervous about it. The first week was a continuation of what we call a three-alarm blaze.

A three-alarm blaze is when there is a deadline to be met and another crew is called in to assist the original working crew.

It was a week of twelve hour days, trouble shooting and rushing in change orders. At the point that it became overwhelming everything slowed down… It was amazing. The training kicked in…

Thursday, I went to Crystal City….straight into the Switchgear Room B…terminate lets get this gear on and these branch circuits hot….

I really do love my job…in the two weeks I have been a Journeyman, I swear, I have had to run pipe from 1/2″ to 2″ and some rigid….I’ve had to troubleshoot low voltage and high voltage and even some control work. Now I am in the gear room….not quite A to Z electrically but A to Q in about two weeks…, the best feeling is being prepared for what I might come across in the field…it gives me confidence.

…thoughts on the night of our Graduation

I can’t express how it feels to cross that stage and be recognized for one’s accomplishments. I want to take the time to thank the JATC Directorship and the Instructors for their support.

This week has been a week of conclusions and new beginings. On Monday I finished up work, from a punch list, for a job that had just been completed.

For those who might not be familar with the term, a “punch list” is a list of final odds and ends that need to be addressed before a completed job is turned over to the customer/ client. This was, without a doubt, the smallest “punch list” I had ever seen submitted by a general contractor on behalf of a client. I was impressed. I wasn’t suprised. The fact was that the foreman I was working for had been ahead of the game, and a perfectionist all along. This is how I finished up my fifth year with a set of formen who were strict electrical professionals but took the time to teach, and correct my odds and ends before I was turned over into an A Journeyman. This Monday it will be my turn.


Chronograduphobia ; a term that a few of us came up with that puts a name to the feeling of anxiety at becoming an A Journeyman or “coming out of your time” as we call it as Electricians who’ve come up thru the apprenticeship.

When you step into day school on the first day of your 1st year, 5 years seems like well… half a decade away…and then it’s 11 days away and counting !?!

There are mixed feelings at reaching this point. There is accomplishment felt when you look back at all that you have learned on the job, in the classroom, the projects that you’ve had a hand in, and the hard work/ labor you put in to reach this goal. There is also that feeling of anxiety at not being too sure of what your next move is especially in this shaky economy.

Then you realize the freedom of having a trade being the solid anchor in the future you are beginning to form, backed by the stability of belonging to a Union. The paths start to open up in your mind. Some of us will hit the road to see what awaits us in signing the books to work in another local and all the knowledge and experience that brings. Some of us will stay home and continue to sharpen our craftsmanship by continuing to take classes and add to the strength of our Union by participating. Some will go foreword into leadership roles with their contractors.

It is an exciting time with newly emerging technology, there is a change in the direction of electrical work, and a new focus in alternative energy. The 5th year of apprenticeship, to me, is not an ending but an educated start.

May 20th.

When I was approached to participate in writing a blog for the JATC’s website; it was a quick yes. I figured it was the least I could do for an organization that has provided me with so much in the way of making something out of myself.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Thompson. I am a 5th year apprentice and I am also the current appeals board representative for apprentices. Currently I am working for J.E.Richards, Inc.

I began with IBEW local 26, on the residential side. I had been working with a non-union electrical outfit; however I was in contact with Union Electricians working for another contractor on the same site. From day one for me there was a difference. The contrast was in confidence, in pride and in the scope and type of work. I noticed it. As luck would have it; I happened to know one of the Union Apprentices and in our conversation I discovered I was not on the path to the top of the food chain. I researched the Union and made contacts. But, I didn’t make a move until the contractor I was working for bounced the payroll and went under. I was not really sure of my next move, that’s when I made my best move in contacting the Union. With my Proof of experience that same day I got a referral. I spent my spring with Birkhead and then in the fall I fell in with J.E.Richards. Sometimes you get lucky.

I have had a string of foremen who have taken the time to guide and teach me. All of them told me the direction I was to take was the apprenticeship and so I applied. I got my scheduled date to take the entrance exam and I can still remember the day when I called and was told I had passed it. Interview, acceptance, there were a few of us were classified early, orientation and with the new classification came a whole new breed and type of experience. It went from just a job into a career.

That was about five years ago…Today I was on top of the Hotel Washington overlooking the Whitehouse (and you’d better have sniper clearance)…I looked to the North and I could see the Washington monument…I thought of the work there with Bryant and Berry in my second year. To the East I could see the Executive office building and I thought of my good friends Kenny and Amos with Singleton and all that overtime…Southwest…the New Police station on M. St. with Heller…the National Gallery of Art…Bowling Air force base and the D.I.A., NIH, the Swiss embassy, the World Bank….stretch down the Potomac to Morgantown Power plant and my time with Dyna services…each job a lesson…on December 9th I came back to Richards… where I began my apprenticeship as a first year…three weeks later…welcome back here’s some prints a game box full of tools and some help now show us what you’ve learned…my pleasure…it’s a circle or a complete electrical circuit if you will…