October 10, 2018
Electrical classes spark students’ career options
I must have 50 (students) out there now. They’re getting jobs around here, Culpeper, some in Maryland, D.C.
— Randy White, instructor
Throughout the huge classroom, students cut, strip, twist and connect wires that they have pulled through wooden framing and into electrical boxes.
Tucked away in the annex at Fauquier High School, 17 teenagers learn the basics of residential electrical work.
Amid the din of hammering, each student from FHS or Liberty High works diligently in a wooden cubicle — while one occasionally gets shocked — during the three-hour electrical course.
Those who take the elective develop hands-on skills that could land them entry-level apprenticeships with electrical companies — sometimes before graduating.
On this Tuesday afternoon, Electrical II and III students practice wiring outlets, lights and breaker boxes. They learn to energize water heaters, stoves and other household appliances.
“By the time they get through the third year here, they ought to be able to wire a complete house,” electrical trade instructor Randy White says.
“It’s something they can rely on for a lifetime, but also if they don’t go into it (as a career), 10-to-1 they will own a house someday,” Mr. White says. “If they can do their own work, they can save a whole lot of money.”
Students focus on residential wiring, but some of the skills apply to commercial work, according to Mr. White.
The course also encourages participation in regional and state competitions.
Although sophomore Cole Johnson remains uncertain whether he wants to pursue a career as an electrician, he believes the skills will pay dividends.
“I thought it would be a good thing to know in life if you own a house,” Cole says.
In his third year of the program, senior Brendan Daly took the first course out of curiosity.
“My dad always told me there’s a shortage in skilled trades,” Brendan says. “I took the class and then realized it was something I want to do.”
Over the summer Brendan worked full-time as a helper at Coastal Electric of Manassas.
He believes the hands-on skills learned at FHS got him the job, helping to wire a new apartment building in Woodbridge.
“I was pretty much doing what everyone else was doing,” Brendan says.
After graduating from Fauquier High in May, he hopes to apply for an apprenticeship through the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers office in Manassas.
Because of all the construction in Northern Virginia, the demand for electricians has grown in recent years, according to Mr. White.
By 2026, jobs for electricians will have risen 9 percent in a decade, thanks to an “increase in construction spending and growing demand for alternative energy sources,” the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects.
Electricians earned a median salary of $54,000 — or $26 an hour, according to the agency.
But, depending on experience, some can earn six-figure salaries.
Fauquier High senior Elberto Arellano took an electrical course at the urging of his father. A landscaper, “my dad never learned a lot of electrical things,” Elberto says.
So the teenager decided to learn all he could and to teach his father a few things about electrical work. The work requires strong organizational skills and a good memory, he says.
“Mr. White is a great teacher,” Elberto says. “I like doing hands-on things. I’m not just sitting in a classroom.”
Elberto already has used his skills at home to replace outlets and to install a three-way dimmer switch in his sister’s bedroom.
“It’s something my dad couldn’t have done, and it saves money. I enjoy it,” he says.
After high school Elberto plans to enroll in a trade school and work toward a journeyman’s license, which usually takes four years.
“I’m hyped for my career,” he says.
Students previously gained electrical competency along with carpentry and other skills through Fauquier High’s building trades course.
But, three years ago educators decided to create a separate electrical course.
“We knew from our business partners, they needed electricians,” says Sarah Frye, the school system’s supervisor of career and technical education. “We knew there was high demand.
“It’s a good fit for our students and local businesses,” Ms. Frye adds. “Students aren’t just able to get a job, but begin a career in that field. It’s a great entry-level job. This is a career they can grow in.”
During the 2018-19 term, more than 100 county students will take electrical courses.
“The program is virtually at capacity,” with a limit of 20 students per class, Ms. Frye says.
Mr. White started teaching the building trades course at FHS 23 years ago. He has transitioned to teaching only electrical courses.
A master electrician, Mr. White formerly worked in the commercial and residential fields for about 30 years.
“I enjoy teaching the young people,” he says. “A trade is something they will never forget and something they can always fall back on.”
His former students have gone on to trade schools or jobs with electrical companies right out of high school.
“A lot of the local electricians will hire them as apprentices, and they don’t have to go through the (trade) school to get their license,” Mr. White says. “I must have 50 (students) out there now. They’re getting jobs around here, Culpeper, some in Maryland, D.C.”
Former building trades student David Krisel, 30, says the course helped him get a summer job as a junior at Sundance Electric in Warrenton before he graduated from Fauquier High in 2006.
“You learned all the basics there, where you’re in a safe environment and not costing your company money . . . . And, you understand basic material and wiring and that can set you up,” Mr. Krisel says. “I have people out here working three to four years who don’t know the basics of a three-way system, which we learned three weeks into the course.”
A field supervisor and foreman at Sumpter Electric in Fredericksburg, Mr. Krisel says the skills learned in high school helped launch his career.
“My options were join the military, pay for college yourself or find a trade,” he says. Electrical work has “given me the ability to provide for my family. I have two kids and a wife. A good, honest living. I was never really a good student . . . . It gave me an opportunity.
“Straight out of high school, a kid can make $10 an hour (as a helper) and grow depending on how well you pick up the trade,” Mr. Krisel adds.
Depending on experience, an electrician can earn $50,000 to $100,000 annually, he says.
One of Mr. White’s former students makes a six-figure salary working as a commercial electrician.
“They can make a good living without college,” the instructor says. “You’re always learning in this” trade.
“We are actually having difficulty finding help,” says Rachael Bowley, owner of Warrenton-based United Electric Co. “To find third- and fourth-year apprentices is very hard right now.”
Ms. Bowley’s company, which has hired two students from Lord Fairfax Community College’s electrical apprenticeship program, offers tuition reimbursement to those with good grades.
United Electric this year has doubled its workforce.
“The demand is definitely high, not only in residential, but also commercial. We are a small business and started three years ago,” Ms. Bowley says. “It’s a combination of having a little more experience in the community and having a higher need for it.”
“The vocational programs in high school are so important,” says Mr. Krisel, who took many trade courses at Fauquier High. “Too many kids are told you need to go to college to be successful in life, and that’s simply not true.”
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BJ · October 11, 2018 at 8:50 am
G Bayliff · October 10, 2018 at 4:36 pm
There is currently an extreme shortage of Skilled Tradesmen,that is going to grow expeditiously in the next 10 years when 30% of the current workforce will be retirement age. This is an incredible opportunity for young men and women that do not want to attend college. After a 5-Year no student cost Apprenticeship with the I.B.E.W. mentioned above, a graduate will earn over $ 94,000.00 a year with Health Care, Retirement, and other Benefits. I am proud to see that Fauquier County has not abandoned these vocational opportunities as other jurisdictions have and should re-instate.
Brendan was a great Summer Helper and we look forward to next year for his return and anyone else interested in experiencing the Electrical Industry.
Coastal Electric Corporation
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