By Colleen Sparks
While the Coronavirus pandemic has caused many people in Arizona and around the country to lose their jobs, an unusual North Central school gives people a chance to start a new career while gaining workforce experience.
The Phoenix Electrical JATC (Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee) closed for a few weeks in order to protect students and instructors due to COVID-19 then switched to an online format for classes. This school at 1520 E. Indianola Ave., established in 1943 through a cooperative industry action, trains students to become journey-level workers in the electrical industry. When they complete the program, they earn about $60,000 in base pay in jobs, said Shawn Hutchinson, training director for the Phoenix JATC.
The Phoenix Electrical JATC pivoted to bring students into its school to do hands-on training in smaller groups than usual and implemented social distancing. Students and staff members wear masks in order to protect people due to COVID-19.
While the electrical construction industry has been affected by the pandemic, with a few Phoenix Electrical JATC students testing positive for the virus, it did not have a huge impact on the school, Hutchinson said.
“The industry was labeled as an essential industry very early on,” he said. “There is still a lot of construction work happening in the Valley and around the state, all across the country. There are opportunities right now for journey-level workers to basically get a job anywhere in the country right now.”
Students have to complete 936 hours of classroom training and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training in order to get certified as journey-level workers. Typically it takes four calendar years to finish the program. Students learn about OSHA standards, instrumentation, project management, interpreting architectural drawings and the mechanical side of fire alarms and other equipment, among other lessons involving math, science, technology and leadership.
Rosendin, an employee-owned electrical contractor, supports the Phoenix Electrical JATC financially and by training apprentices, who are students at the school. It is one of about 100 contractors working with the Phoenix Electrical JATC. Rosendin has seen some additional absenteeism from employees and some shutdowns from general contractors due to COVID-19, said Stephan R. Cole, Workforce Development Coordinator with Rosendin. Rosendin, which has a Phoenix office, has adopted protocols to protect employees and other trades workers on the job, including offering hand sanitizer and face coverings and enhancing cleaning of job sites, Cole said.
“We have seen a dramatic need for skilled labor in the last few years and right now with so many people unemployed, it is a great time to try out a new career in the trades,” he said. “Given the uncertainty that the retail and service industries are currently facing, now is an optimal time to pursue a career in the trades as the local construction industry does not show many signs of significantly slowing down.”
Eddie Nuñez, a student in his third year at the Phoenix Electrical JATC, works as an apprentice for Rosendin.
“It is a good career path,” Nuñez said. “I’ve learned a lot. I like when there’s stuff to solve.”