By Jim Curran and Dennis Gralike
Every year, hundreds apply to the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center but a growing number fail to earn acceptance to the program because of deficiencies STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math. Ten years ago, about five percent failed to meet our qualifications. Today, it’s 15 percent. That’s alarming because the projects we complete are becoming more complex.
SPECIALIZED PROJECTS DELIVERED BY UNION ELECTRICIANS
Just look at IKEA, for example. It is not just a retail store. It’s a retail store with Missouri’s largest rooftop solar array, with 4,085 solar panels, enough to power 169 homes. It is a store lit with 100 percent energy-saving LEDs and infused with automation to efficiently operate lighting and environmental controls.
Nearby, Shriners Hospital contains specialized health care infrastructure including voice, data, nurse call systems, access control, security, television, fire alarms and wireless access. Data center cabling has become extraordinarily specialized to increase transmission speed.
The newly expanded GM plant in Wentzville relies on intricate process controls that operate advanced robotics in auto manufacturing.
All of these projects were delivered by members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1 and the St. Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). So, it’s easy to understand why IBEW/NECA has tasked its Electrical Connection labor-management partnership to help schools and civic organizations energize STEM education.
For more than seven years, the Electrical Connection has engaged more than 9,000 students in how STEM subjects translate into electrical careers.
Nowhere was this more evident than at the March 4, 2016 Partners for Progress of Greater St. Charles STEM recognition breakfast honoring 18 high achievers in STEM education in St. Charles County high schools.
The program united the engineering ingenuity at the GM Wentzville plant with the high level of electrical skills required to power and integrate its manufacturing operations. Just a week later, the Electrical Connection was one of the key sponsors of the three-day St. Louis FIRST Robotics regional competition at Chaifetz Arena.
The Electrical Connection’s support of STEM not only cultivates workforce development, but idea generation that is the foundation of a robust entrepreneurial future for St. Louis and Missouri. It is every bit as important to nurture the ideas that our IBEW/NECA workforce will ultimately build.
Our training center offers online remedial education to elevate STEM proficiencies for applicants and like the apprenticeship program itself, it’s provided at no cost and at no cost to taxpayers. But it’s also important to make an impact in the formative years of childhood. The Electrical Connection hosts highly informative STEM programs for school children in the third and fourth grades, junior high and high school. That includes partnerships with the Saint Louis Science Center, Cortex, TechShop and schools throughout the region.
We’ve always needed workers who understand the ohm, amp and watt. But technology is rapidly changing our lives. Last year, the Pew Research Center reported that foreign students now earn more than half of the advanced STEM degrees at U.S. colleges and universities. If America is to continue competing globally, we need to continually energize the nation’s ingenuity through STEM education.
(Jim Curran is executive vice president of the Electrical Connection, a partnership of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local One and the St. Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). Dennis Gralike is director of the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center.)