IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center navigates Covid-19 challenges with restructured classes

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Blended learning model provides insights to improve instruction

RESTRUCTURED CLASSES: To adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff at the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center have resequenced classes to engage students in hands-on learning in smaller batches to accommodate social distancing. – Compass Communications photo

At Missouri’s oldest electrical industry training center, restructured classes complemented by remote learning has become the “norm” in the era of Covid-19.

And as leadership at the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center monitors the pandemic with an eye to fully reopening classroom instruction this September, its blended learning model has provided insights to improve the program.

“Before the pandemic, we already had a robust blended learning program established with online coursework and homework,” said Dennis Gralike, director of training. “The real challenge has been the hands-on lab instruction. Conduit bending, work with motor controls and the like can’t really be done from home.”

RESEQUENCED CLASSES
To adapt, Gralike and his staff have resequenced classes to engage students in hands-on learning in smaller batches to accommodate social distancing. Each student is provided a face mask and instructions on protecting themselves from the virus, essentially learning new safety protocols they will encounter on job sites.

The training center, jointly funded and operated by IBEW Local 1 and members of the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), is now guiding 35 students through the final semester of their five years of training so they can graduate this summer. There are approximately 60 new apprentices who began work this year but are still waiting to start their classroom-related instruction.

APPLICATIONS UP ABOUT 20 PERCENT
“There’s been a tremendous interest in our training program since the pandemic hit,” Gralike said. “Applications are up about 20 percent. Covid-19 has brought so much change and accentuated our dependence on disruptive technologies, such as remote learning and working, robotics and smart building technology. Someone has to engineer, install and maintain that technology and that’s been our graduates.”

SAFE INSTRUCTION: The real challenge to the training center has been the hands-on lab instruction, which can’t be done from home. Each student is provided a face mask and instructions on protecting themselves from the virus, essentially learning new safety protocols they will encounter on job sites. – Compass Communications photo

Gralike also noted an improvement in the quality of applicants to the training center, which he attributed in part to a long-time emphasis on STEM education by the IBEW/NECA Electrical Connection partnership. Founded in 1993, the Electrical Connection has supported STEM education programs in public and private schools and through partnerships with the Saint Louis Science Center, Mathews Dickey Boys & Girls Club, the St. Charles Economic Development Center and other civic and educational organizations.

While the pandemic has created challenges for the training center, it has also helped improve instruction.

HELPED IMPROVE INSTRUCTION
“The remote classes have given us insights on patterns of learning by individual students,” said Gralike. “We can see which areas of instruction they are struggling with and better orient instruction to each individual’s needs.”

Gralike said they will use what they’ve learned to refine instruction in the classroom setting. What’s still unknown is how soon and in what manner high school career fairs will resume.

COMPELLING CASE FOR ELECTRICAL CAREERS
“When they do resume, Dennis Gralike and his staff will be able to make an even more compelling case for electrical careers,” noted Jim Curran, Electrical Connection executive vice president. “High school students, parents and teachers have lived the value of the technology we engineer, install and maintain that’s been providing reliable power and connecting a world in isolation.”

Located at 2300 Hampton Ave, the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center has trained more highly skilled and safe electricians and communication technicians than any education program in Missouri. The five-year, 10,000-hour training program has a 90 percent graduation rate and an effective outreach program.

For the last nine years, minorities have made up 25 to 40 percent of apprenticeship classes, which start every six months. The center also conducts continuing education classes for journey workers who want to keep pace with changing technologies. In addition, the training center has education partnerships that offer college credits.

FREE TRAINING
The training center invests $3 million annually in training. Training is free of charge with apprentices earning a living with benefits as they learn. There are no student loans and there is no expense to taxpayers.

Through its Electrical Connection partnership, IBEW/NECA provides safe and reliable electrical construction, maintenance, repair and replacement services across Missouri, the nation and the world. Learn more at electricalconnection.org.


 

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