To diversify, IBEW recruits

By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor

To boost the ranks of minorities in the union electrician workforce, NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center (NIETC) put on a free basic skills class July 11-15 for eight black workers interested in the trade. Most of them put the knowledge to use the following week as they were placed in jobs as material handlers, with mentors assigned to help them. In the inside wireman trade, material handler is the $9.01-an-hour starting rung of a career ladder that can lead to a $36.05-an-hour journeyman wage (plus $17.38 an hour in benefits).

In the weeklong class at the training center on Northeast Airport Way, sessions were led by NIETC instructors and members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 48’s Electrical Workers Minority Caucus. Students learned how to safely climb a ladder and operate a forklift, and how to identify basic parts that go into an electrical installation. By weeks’ end, the seven men and one woman had OSHA 10, CPR/AED, and forklift certifications, and had been through IBEW member orientation.

For Brian Beasley, 33, the training is a second chance.

“I went through some hardships, most of them brought on by myself,” Beasley told the Labor Press, alluding to past trouble with the law. But Beasley, who has two uncles in the electrical trade, credited the NIETC training and the Constructing Hope pre-apprenticeship program — for helping him find his way again.

Becoming an inside wireman apprentice is a three-month process, explains NIETC Workforce Development Coordinator Bridget Quinn. First you turn in an application, and then the following month take an aptitude test. If you do well on the test, there’s an interview the month after that. The interview score and aptitude score are combined, and you’re placed on a ranked list of candidates for new classes when they open up.

Apprentice wages start at $14.42 an hour and rise to $30.64. Apprenticeship consists of classroom learning and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training, and can take several years. How long it takes depends on the economy, because how many apprentices are needed depends on how much construction is being done.

Quinn said the union needs women and minority apprentices in order to meet quotas set by some local construction projects, like a South Waterfront project run by the Portland Development Commission.

“I think the greatest barrier has been that a lot of these folks don’t come from a community with a big construction background,” Quinn said. If you don’t see somebody or know somebody growing up who works in the construction field, then you don’t think of it as an option.”

Quinn said participants in the skills training have a chance to become effective apprentices, and eventually effective journeymen.

“Later on down the road,” Quinn said, “they can be role models for their siblings or community.”

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