Sunday, May 1, 2011

Time Flies

As we enter May, I'm struck by the fact that it's already been almost a year since I graduated from the apprenticeship. This time last year, I was nervous about what my transition would be like but excited for the graduation ceremony.

A year later, I'm finally starting to feel comfortable in my new role. I look at other mechanics as my peers and don't hesitate as much in choosing a course of action to take on a project. I doubt that I'll ever feel like I know everything about the trade, especially since it seems like it grows and changes every month, but I'm starting to realize that I know what I need to know... and that's a great feeling!!

I can't get over what a remarkable program the apprenticeship is. Almost six years ago I was reading the want-ads, trying to find a job in the industry. Now, I feel comfortable and confident as a professional in the field. For five years I had a team of people working hard to employ me with companies who would teach me exactly what I needed to know to build a career as an electrician.

I'm proud to say that we have a new 1st-year apprentice blogger. His name is Michael Gerrick, and his blog and record of his experiences can be read here:

I look forward to following along on Michael's blog and reading about his experiences from year to year. I especially look forward to five years from now, when we are reading about his up-and-coming graduation! Who knows what kinds of projects and technology IBEW electricians will be dealing with then? Whatever it is, I trust our apprentices to be perfectly equipped to handle to work!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nice to Hear

Today as we got in the company van and rode off campus to where our cars were parked, a couple of guys were talking about the new apprentice who has just started with the company this week. The apprentice had taken the metro home already.

"What year is the new apprentice on John's job?" one guy asked.

"A first-year," was the reply.

"Is he going to make it to his second year?" asked one of the guys, trying to coyly determine the skill-level of the new-recruit.

I was very surprised when, at the same time, two of the mechanics in the van exclaimed, "We'll get him to his second year!"

I hadn't expected that kind of support, especially when the new guy wasn't around. These guys were both correcting the other who was trying to be funny and showing their feelings about the union. I was really, really surprised.

"This is a brotherhood, man," one of them said to me the next day when I mentioned the incident in passing. "We have to look out for each other. It's up to us to help new guys become IBEW electricians. It shouldn't make any difference that this is his first week in the trade. It's our job to see that he makes it through the apprenticeship and keeps the union going strong."

I just thought that was an incredible thing to hear. Wanted to pass it on!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

More Mechanics

I've bounced between four different jobs in the last four months but seem to have found a new home. I'm working on a decent sized job at NIH which looks like it'll keep me busy for awhile, and I'm happy to be so lucky!

I've spent the last couple of weeks planning out pipe runs and building racks to hang pipe on and now, as material comes in and more and more sections of the job are ready to be started, the foreman has started calling for more men to come to the job. This is always an exciting time for me. You never know who's coming out to help--perhaps it's someone you've worked with before or maybe it's someone new. Maybe it's someone you're going to be working with for the next year or more. You never know!

Two mechanics arrived this week to help on the project and it's been great. Both guys have been with the company for awhile, but none of us have ever met before. We're all mechanics, and it's like we all speak the same language. I'm learning that a lot of what a mechanic brings to a job is intangible. They're not intimated by the size or difficulty of different tasks, they approach problems which calm and reason, and they bring the "can-do" attitude which comes from experience (the "have-done!"). I know that these qualities come from experience, just like speed does, and it's fun to meet more people who've been around the block and bring that sense of capability to a job.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Speed Control

One problem I'm having as a journeyman is speed. I'm having trouble getting tasks done fast enough, or at least at a rate which I feel is expected of me. I realize that I'm being paid 20% more per hour than I was as a fifth-year apprentice, and so I really feel like I need to be 20% more "valuable" to my company, which to me oftentimes means being 20% faster.

I suppose part of the problem I'm having comes from the "learning curve" which you encounter on every new project you take on, but a large majority of it comes from the heightened sense of responsibility that I feel as a mechanic. Since there's no longer anybody coming behind me to make sure I'm doing the job correctly, I tend to over-think each task to make sure that it's being done correctly and efficiently. When I described this feeling to one of my teachers at the hall, he introduced me to a term which perfectly conveys the feeling: "analysis paralysis." I couldn't believe how apt that description is. I was very relieved to learn that this is a common feeling that new mechanics get!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

First Few Months

Over the course of the 5 years that you spend in apprenticeship before becoming a journeyman electrician, you become a really good apprentice. When I started out in the trade, I didn't know a thing about electricity and I didn't know a thing about construction sites. But as graduation grew closer and closer, I felt more and more comfortable in my role as an apprentice. You learn what's expected of you in many areas of performance: attitude, manual skill, knowledge of the trade, forethought and planning, etc. As a first year student, I looked up to 4th and 5th years in much the same way as I looked up to mechanics. I could see that these men and women knew what they were doing.

Coming into this summer I felt like I knew what I was doing, finally, too. And it was that comfort which I relied on to keep me rolling as a new mechanic. But I noticed that some things were different.

As I met new people on the job I was now introduced as a journeyman--not an apprentice. These people never knew me as an apprentice, and I suddenly started feeling a new sense of responsibility settling on me. What kind of jobs would I be asked to do? Could I ask questions if I had them? Apprentices are full of questions and are always learning. I still had a lot of questions!

I'm still learning what's expected of a journeyman. I've got the tools, I've got the training, and I'm ready to work. What I've found to be most helpful to me as a journeyman are mental techniques. I try to approach every new task or new jobsite with optimism and a "can-do" attitude, even if I'm not feeling too confident or sure of what I'm doing. I'm trying to ask fewer questions of my foremen. I think we know more than we think we do at this point, and we just have to trust ourselves (this is the part that's particularly difficult for me!).

Also, I'm trying to quickly engage the task at hand and be the one who is "leading" the work to it's completion. As an apprentice, you sometimes have to sit back and let the mechanic drive the tempo of the work being done. Sure, there are many apprentices who are faster than mechanics, but I'm realizing that it's our job to pace the work. It's successful completion rests on our shoulders.

It's been an interesting few months so far. I'm looking forward to the work ahead and finally getting comfortable in my new role!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

We did it!

I can't believe the time has finally come for me to say this, but I'm officially a journeyman electrician now! Our class graduated this past Saturday, June 5th, bringing 5 years of hard work and study to an exciting finish. The JATC did an amazing job of celebrating our successful completion of the program. We had a wonderful ceremony at Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt consisting of a formal graduation as well as dinner with family, friends, members of the JATC and several members of the electrical industry. Although the spotlight was on us apprentices and our graduation, I think everyone involved could see that the event was just another indication of how well organized and talented the people who run this apprenticeship really are: it was unforgettable.

So after five years of being an apprentice, I really look forward to working as a full-fledged journeyman. This past week at work has been very interesting for me. Nothing has changed to an outsider's perspective, but I feel compelled to work as fast and as diligently as possible and to make as many independent decisions as I can. I'm working under a terrific foreman who isn't putting any extra pressure on me because of my new electrical status, but I still feel like it's my job now to emulate the work I've watched countless mechanics around me perform for the past few years. The best journeymen I've worked with have all had one quality in common: regardless of their differing strengths as electricians, they've all brought a can-do attitude to the tasks they've been asked to perform. Although I still feel like there are plenty of things I don't fully understand in the electrical field, it is this quality with which I hope to approach my job every day.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Different Feel

I'm really getting a new feel for what it's like being an electrician while I'm working on the job I'm currently on. We have had a very small crew--just a foreman, myself, a second-year apprentice and a helper--for the majority of the three months that I've been out there. Only recently have we added another fifth-year apprentice and occasionally a mechanic who helps us out when he's not busy doing service calls for the company.

With this set-up as it is, a lot of "important" work has fallen on my shoulders. What I mean by "important" work is work that ordinarily is automatically given to an experienced mechanic on the job--exposed pipe-runs that have to look just right, large runs with difficult routes, building electric closets, setting switchgear, etc. I have repeatedly been very surprised to realize that, most of the time, I am the most experienced electrician on the job outside of the foreman...and with graduation only two months away (!), I'm almost a mechanic.

It's really been a lot of fun. I feel great knowing that I'm being trusted to perform tasks which aren't 100% straight-forward and simple. To me, part of the experience of being an apprentice has been realizing that there's a lot I don't know and--as a result--holding a great deal of respect for the vast amount of knowledge that a mechanic has about electric work. I never really knew what sort of change to expect once the time came to become a mechanic myself. I guess I just imagined that I'd suddenly know a whole bunch of stuff that I didn't know before. As it turns out, as graduation draws closer, I'm understanding that a lot of the feeling of transition will come from the respect and trust that others put in me. This is a cool feeling; one which, by itself, is worth five years of hard work.