Remote education, working strategies necessitated by COVID-19 shine spotlight on communication technicians

ELECTRICAL COMMUNICATIONS TECHS have been front and center in the coronavirus pandemic, providing critical assistance to keep the community connected with stay-at-home orders to stop the spread of COVID-19. – IBEW photo

When career fairs resume after coronavirus restrictions are lifted, job seekers and businesses will have a greater appreciation for careers in the electrical industry – particularly communication technicians.

Dennis Gralike, director of the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center, says this will be the year to showcase those careers after businesses, schools and other industries have come to rely upon those skilled communication workers to assist them with remote learning and working strategies to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

The training center is jointly operated by IBEW Local 1 and members of the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), which form the Electrical Connection partnership.

“I think back to when IBEW/NECA invested millions of dollars to upgrade the training center in 1999 to fortify training in low-voltage voice/video/data, the backbone of our connectivity today,” Gralike said. “While it defines much of what our communication technicians install, it’s still not well understood as work that our IBEW apprentices and journey workers are trained in, and perform for, a variety of industries.”

In the last several weeks, skilled communication technicians have been providing critical assistance to keep the community connected with stay-at-home orders. At one point, there were so many people using the Internet, it put a strain on the region’s broadband capacity.

“The communication technicians we produce at the training center are highly proficient at installing the backbone of local area networks and wide area networks that connect businesses internally and externally,” Gralike said.

“That allows people to work or take classes from home or remotely,” he said. “We offer blended learning here at the training center, offering classes in house and online. We want to encourage high school students and others to consider the importance of this highly complex construction work that we will become more dependent on in the future.”

Gralike notes that several hundred IBEW apprentices and journey workers are experiencing firsthand the value of communication technicians as they engage in remote learning while the training center temporarily suspends in-person classes due to the pandemic.

Currently the training center has 63 telecommunications apprentices and several journey level communication technicians enrolled in continuing education classes. The 8,000 hours of training includes: network technologies; wide area networking; fiber optics technologies; structured cabling; CCTV and surveillance systems; green building fundamentals; paging and voice evaluation; local area networking; nurse call and sound reinforcement systems; total building automation; building information modeling (BIM); and test instruments.

“It’s more than just pulling cable,” noted Steve Potts, president of Primary Systems, which employs communication technicians in a number of its projects, many serving the healthcare industry.

“We perform a full spectrum of integrated communications to help hospitals improve the patient experience, optimize treatment, maximize productivity and track important data, he said. “We have three RNs on our staff to help guide us in future applications, which is especially valuable when hospitals have to deal with a health crisis.”

Primary Systems installs integrated communication platforms for patient flow, clinical communications, nurse call systems, electronic medical records, supply records and more.

The Electrical Connection represents more than 5,000 IBEW electricians and more than 150 NECA electrical contractors who employ them. Its award-winning work provides safe and reliable electrical construction, maintenance, repair and replacement services across Missouri, the nation and the world. Learn more at



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