NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry
  • What Makes a Journeyman a Journeyman?

    Posted on Aug 21, 2007 by John M Grau

    I want to share another comment in response to my posting on the recent National Training Institute in Knoxville. Mike Kanetzky of ELK Electric in Austin, Texas, and I have had an ongoing dialogue for the past few months regarding apprentice training and the NJATC. His comments aren’t directly about the NTI, but they do raise some important issues that others may want to comment on.

    John, the training of the trainers can be the best in the world, yet if the curriculum of the NJATC does not fit the contractor's needs; it will not make any difference.

    We jointly with Labor here at local 520 put together what we thought a journeyman wireman should know. From this list of skills we developed out testing boards which we use to qualify the Intermediate Journeyman (sub-journeyman) to organize them into our union. It is also an alternative plan to the NJATC to provide sub-journeyman training to advance and learn the skills required to become a journeyman wireman.

    We took our local NJATC class after they finished their 3rd year and tested them on our IJ Testing Boards and out of the 38 apprentices 4 passed the skills boards for what a third year person should know. Results!

    It seems obvious to me in reviewing the curriculum and speaking to recent graduates that the NJATC has lost sight of their objective of teaching apprentices how to become productive employees for contractors.

    It is my opinion that the NJATC has exterior influences separate from meeting the contractor’s needs that has deteriorated the curriculum.

    We need flexibility in our training for each local.

    - Mike Kanetzky

    Establishing national training standards while simultaneously allowing local flexibility in training is a delicate balance. Some say the NJATC curriculum overtrains journeymen. “We’re producing rocket scientists instead of productive workers,” is one comment I’ve heard. Others have remarked that the journeymen skills required in one area are drastically different from skills needed in another area. So local programs should set their own standard for what constitutes a journeyman wireman. 

    Meanwhile, other contractors want a firm national standard. When journeymen travel from one area to another, the contractor wants to know that he can expect a certain level of training and skills when he calls for a journeyman from the local referral hall.  Also, the CW/CE program creates additional levels of skills and needs for evaluation before someone is certified as a journeyman electrician.

    In my opinion, a local program needs flexibility, but I also believe that the current NJATC curriculum can be adapted to enable a third-year apprentice to pass a third-year CW/CE practical skills exam. In the end, we still want to know that a journeyman electrician from Texas can perform the work required of a journeyman electrician in Minneapolis, and vice versa. That’s one reason major customers are pushing for certification of craftsmen working on their projects.

    Let’s hear from others on this issue. Where do you think the balance lies? Is it important to have a national standard and core training curriculum for apprentices, or should each local union area determine their own standard and have greater flexibility in developing their training curriculum? Use the Feedback link below to send me your thoughts.

  • Comments on NTI

    Posted on Aug 17, 2007 by John M Grau

    I received several comments on my posting about the National Training Institute in Knoxville. Most had something to say about the upcoming college football season, but a couple commented directly on the NTI. I want to share two of these.


    Great comments on NTI, a very valuable resource for all NECA Contractors. In my capacity on the NTI Advisory Committee, I intend to help create some more contractor oriented courses and events in order to encourage additional contractor participation. I'll keep you posted on the progress and welcome any and all suggestions. I also noticed Neyland Stadium and concluded that we here in Columbus are very blessed to have Ohio Stadium. GO BUCKS!

    Greg Stewart
    The Superior Group

    Columbus, Ohio

    As a NECA contractor and JATC committee member who was in attendance at NTI this year. I was ashamed and embarrassed at the lack of NECA leadership that was in attendance at NTI. I take time away from my business because I believe that education is important in our industry. If you call John Grau and Gary Higgins adequate representation for NECA, I think you may need to rethink that position. All of the IBEW's leadership were there, Ed Hill, his officers and all of his Vice Presidents. Where were NECA's V.P. and officers? A few comments in your blog did not sit well with me. As I was at NTI ALL WEEK! How would any participant find NECA's leadership after any class? There were only 2 NECA leaders in attendance for half of a day. Where was your leadership the rest of the week? At the opening ceremony, there was ZERO NECA representation. If I was giving a grade on leadership's commitment to NTI for IBEW and NECA, the IBEW would get an "A" and I am sad to say that NECA would get an "F". There is no commitment from NECA's leadership, unless you call lack of effort “leadership.”

    Ed Wickham
    Wickham Electric Company
    Richmond, Ohio

    For the past ten years NECA leadership has been out in full force at the annual NTI. I personally have been present for all but a few NTI’s over the program’s 18-year history. And several of NECA’s national staff were present at NTI for the entire week.

    Traditionally, we hold a couple of other industry meetings in conjunction with the NTI, but they didn’t take place this year. For that reason we didn’t make this year’s NTI a “mandatory” event for the NECA Vice Presidents. If we had asked, they would have certainly been there. NECA President Milner Irvin’s connecting flight to Knoxville was cancelled, and that’s the only reason he was unable to attend the graduation ceremony. Even the IBEW had about half of there normal contingent present.

    This shouldn’t be seen as lack of commitment to the NTI. Considering the amount of time away from their business that our contractor officers volunteer to NECA, I hope you can cut them a bit of slack in this one instance. I know they’ll be present at next year’s event.

    And we’ll work with Greg to see if we can get more overall participation from NECA contractors. Once more of our member have the chance to experience what makes NTI special, I’m sure they’ll be as committed the program as Greg and Ed.

    Thanks for your input, guys.

  • Training Connection Goes Through Knoxville

    Posted on Aug 10, 2007 by John M Grau

    I’m on my way back from Knoxville, Tenn., where I attended the graduation ceremony for the 2007 class of the National Training Institute (NTI). The NTI is a program sponsored by our NJATC. Over 1,900 instructors and training directors from our local JATCs attended this year. They spent the last week learning the latest training techniques and technical skills needed to be the best trainers in the industry. This is the NTI’s 18th year, and it is quite an undertaking.

    The NTI is conducted in cooperation with the adult and continuing education center of the University of Tennessee. The week-long program is packed with educational and training opportunities for our JATC instructors, as well as our own contractor personnel. Whenever I tour the NTI classroom sessions, I’m always amazed at how enthusiastic and energetic the participants are. Upon leaving class, many of them seek out NECA and IBEW leaders to personally thank us for the opportunity to participate in the Institute.

    In order to graduate, training instructors must attend NTI for four years. The graduation ceremony is held at the historic Tennessee Theater, and the energy and sense of accomplishment there is no less significant than you would find at a college graduation event. This year, Ed Hill and I offered a few remarks to the graduating class. We reiterated the strength of the NECA-IBEW partnership and the role that the new graduates will have in supporting that partnership. Our trainers are a vital link to workforce development, and their personal commitment to this industry shines through in every course they led and to every apprentice they help train and mentor.

    On a side note, when I was leaving Knoxville, I drove by Neyland Stadium where the University of Tennessee Vols play. I’m sure it’s a nice enough place and fairly roomy, but I couldn’t help but notice that it’s still a few thousand seats short of Michigan Stadium – college football’s largest venue. Did I mention that the college football session starts in a few weeks? GO BLUE!


  • More Member Thoughts on Code of Excellence

    Posted on Aug 07, 2007 by John M Grau

    In the next few weeks, all IBEW-signatory electrical contractors in the U.S. and Canada will receive a DVD about the Code of Excellence. Primarily directed towards local union members, the DVD will describe the history and purpose of the Code of Excellence and how members can implement it on the local level. 

    Considering the continued interest from many NECA contractors on this topic, I wanted to post another comment about the Code of Excellence that I recently received. This one from Joel Moryn of Parsons Electric LLC, headquartered in Minneapolis.

    John, I appreciate your response to the Code of Excellence commentary. I have some similar rumblings from people that have not tried the concepts out. We have provided the training to our project managers and 292 electricians on a voluntary basis. Almost all of them have volunteered to take the training. Once done I have not heard one negative comment about the eight hours invested being anything but great.

    Many say it should be common sense but quickly add, but it isn't. To me the Code of Excellence is about setting a standard of what it means to be a "professional." It says to the customer [that] we have adopted a philosophy that is shared by us all (labor and management) [and] that we will not tolerate anyone that does not meet our standards of excellence. Other electricians who are not IBEW may accept something less, but we won't. It also says internally between our labor partners that if you are one of our members of the IBEW we can no longer allow anyone that does not accept that standard to work in this industry.

    We all have a fair chance to buy into this standard, and a majority of us have practiced it their entire careers, but let's all unite around articulating for our customers what that standard is (or has always been.) Another way of rolling out this program may be what we have done with our customers: "This has always been the standard of performance for our employees and for you, our customers. We have just recently articulated this standard so you can be assured of what it is and judge for yourself if you have ever seen less from us." Nowhere does it say we just started doing this.

    We are grateful in Minneapolis for the cooperation received by IBEW District 7 in providing training information and all of the assistance we could hope for to launch what I personally believe is the best program launched in my 25 year career. Thanks for your leadership.

    Best Regards,

    Joel Moryn, P.E.

  • Chapter Staff Making It Happen

    Posted on Aug 01, 2007 by John M Grau

    NECA has the best chapter staff executives of any other association I know. That’s my opinion after participating in the annual Midwest Region Chapter Executives meeting last week in Wisconsin.

    Chapter and national staff from the Midwest dug into subjects ranging from strategic planning retreats for chapter boards and understanding market share statistics, to encouraging future leaders’ participation, labor relations training, and the development of substance abuse programs. I updated the group on national issues and Board of Governors proposals. Midwest Regional Executive Director Drew Gibson reported on area concerns. There was also ample time for open discussion and sharing ideas.

    Each of NECA’s four regions holds similar gatherings each year. Together, we also hold the annual Association Executives Institute for both national and chapter staff. These are serious meetings with meaty subjects. There are a number of other regular opportunities for chapter staff to attend education programs designed to increase their knowledge and effectiveness in serving their local NECA members. And most staff actively participate.

    There are a lot of reasons why NECA is a great organization, and the expertise and dedication of our local and national staff is one of them. When I get together with my peers at meetings like the one last week, I’m always refreshed and encouraged. It reinforces my belief that together we have the ability to handle any challenge that comes our way.

    On a side note, I was able to stop by Mader’s, my favorite Milwaukee German restaurant, for lunch on the way back to the airport. They have the best wurst platter of any other German restaurant I know.

  • Code of Excellence Conversation Continues

    Posted on Jul 25, 2007 by John M Grau

    The Code of Excellence continues to generate debate. Here’s a comment I received from Bob Kohlmeyer, Governor of NECA’s Long Island Chapter:

    Personally, I am ashamed of the fact that we may post a Code of Excellence in our agreements.

    It is the single most embarrassing document we could publish, in my eyes. It basically admits to the industry and mostly the customer that all these years we have been "sticking it" to both the contractor and the customer. And now because we have lost the market the union wants to put its tail between its legs and say we won't use abusive words, we won't use drugs or drink on the job, we will start on time, work all day, limit our lunch breaks, keep our coffee breaks (a privilege, not a requirement, by the way) to 10 minutes. Well, GEEE thanks!

    Oh and by the way, Mr. Employer, you have rules to give up proper supervision, tools, etc.

    Please just let us run our companies and our jobs. Just ask the workers to come to work on time, work hard all day, and go home. The IBEW really do not need to make any deals or promise to our clients just show up on time, work hard for 8 hours, and go home. Is that to much to ask? Do we really need empty promises written in our contracts?

    Bob, I completely understand what you’re saying – aren’t the old-school values of a fair-days-work for a fair-days-pay good enough to get the job done? I recently reminded my seven-year old son that when I was his age, I had to get up at 5 a.m. to pick berries at the neighbor’s farm. Where I grew up, working and doing a good job were expected.

    Why do we really need something that should be common sense written into contract language?

    I know from my conversations with customers that we don’t have to be embarrassed about establishing a code of expected conduct and performance from our employees. Poor worker attitudes are not confined to unions or electrical construction. Our customers have the same problems of inspiring their employees to consistently perform well. So far, they have been applauding us for understanding the problem and taking a progressive approach to solve it.

    I don’t think any of us are saying that all workers are bad apples. Many don’t understand the full impact that their behavior has on the job. Our workers are paid by the hour – some of them don’t understand why not showing up to work one day in the middle of the week actually costs the employer anything. That’s why we need to educate them about the contractor’s side of the job. We can do this through the Code of Excellence. 

    Your last paragraph says it all. “Ask the workers to come to work on time, work hard all day, and go home.” The values expressed in the Code of Excellence are exactly that. The workers’ union is endorsing that concept for the entire industry. I think we should applaud them for it.

    I’ll end with a comment I received on the same post from Ron Autrey, Governor of the North Florida Chapter:

    If a breakthrough in cancer treatment at a Florida institution is released, should we only let people in Florida have access to it?

    The concepts of excellence in work efforts are universal. The same is true for the Florida Initiative. Like the Code of Excellence, we initially tried the Florida Initiative on a few jobs, at first.

    The flexible terms provided by the initiative were also universally desirable. Flexible work weeks, physical 40, portability, [and] variable crew ratios are all the things contractors have wanted for years.

    If some areas elect not to embrace this historic opportunity for change, then they will lag behind in their success and will accelerate their loss of market share.

    In 30 years, I've never seen a better spirit of cooperation between labor and management. A small group of IBEW leaders like Eddie Dedmon, Jim Rudicil, Jerry Coonahan, and Ed Hill have brought about great change with the cooperation of NECA and NECA members in Florida.

    I truly appreciate the time that both Ron and Bob took to respond to my original post. Their comments demonstrate that this is an important issue worthy of debate.

  • Voting for the Future

    Posted on Jul 19, 2007 by John M Grau

    I just voted in an important election, but it had nothing to do with politics. ELECTRI International, NECA's foundation, held its meeting to review the 2008 research proposals last week near Dallas. The ELECTRI Council is made up of representatives from major contributors to the Foundation – NECA members, chapters, manufacturers, distributors, software vendors, and NECA itself. That's where my vote came in.

    The selection process is an interesting one. First, more than 70 researchers submitted a brief outline of their proposed projects to the Foundation.   A committee then winnowed the 48 proposals down to 10, which were sent out to the full Council. In Dallas, each of the selected researchers was given 20 minutes to explain his or her proposed project and answer questions from the council members.

    The researchers were dismissed, and the Council members gathered around tables to analyze and discuss each proposal the next day. Each review team shared their thoughts with the whole group. Then the voting started.

    Based on a formula which approximates the earnings available from the Foundation’s endowment, we could spend up to $770,000 on projects this year. In the end, six projects were chosen at a cost of around $670,000. The winning research projects will produce studies on effective project management, the role of electrical contractors on LEED projects, local apprenticeship program best practices, effectively recruiting and training the supervisory workforce, and implementing lessons learned from the market recovery initiative in Florida.

    Since its inception in 1989, ELECTRI International has spent over $6 million on more than 100 research projects which are either completed or underway. You can get the full story by going to the foundation’s website, The Foundation has been and is a unique and major asset for the electrical contracting industry. Its benefits are almost incalculable. While I only had one vote in last week's election, I was honored to cast it for the future of our industry.

  • Q&A on Code of Excellence

    Posted on Jul 12, 2007 by John M Grau

    NECA member Jerry Hayes of United Electric in Atlanta sent a question in response to my recent post “Executive Committee Meeting Recap.” In that post, I said that the committee had taken action to make the Code of Excellence Category I language. Jerry responded with his perspective on what including the Code of Excellence in Category I language would mean. His message clearly expressed similar thoughts I’d heard from other folks, so I was glad that he graciously agreed to let me post both his question and my response to him on NECA Transmissions.

    Feel free to keep the conversation going by sending your comments through the Feedback link below.

    “To me, it looks like the 'Code of Excellence' is another article in the agreements that says labor will do what they are supposed to do. Aren’t we giving trouble-makers a list of things to use as excuses that they could not perform? What do we hope to get by having this a Category 1 language? I am doing this in my shop, but only with my supervision. That is where it counts.”

     - Jerry Hayes

    Jerry raises a good point about the Code of Excellence becoming Category I language. Just because something is good in one area doesn't mean it's good for everyone. In this case, however, I have trouble seeing a downside.

    First, for clarification, the Category I language we're suggesting would be enabling language that would state that each area should develop and adopt its own Code of Excellence with some minimum guidelines.

    Therefore, what's contained in the jointly agreed-to Code and how it is enforced should be customized for each area.

    Second, the Code of Excellence is not just for labor. It establishes obligations for employers, employees, NECA chapters, and IBEW locals.

    And you're right in that it really only says that everybody will do what they already are supposed to do under the local labor agreement. Asking labor to give eight hours work for eight hours pay isn't a novel concept. Neither is suggesting that it's the contractor's obligation to see that the job has proper tools and materials.

    What is important is that both parties to the labor agreement all state in writing that they intend to live up to the spirit as well as the letter of the agreement. Instead of giving trouble-makers a list of excuses, the Code of Excellence takes those excuses away. We can clearly see changes in areas where both parties have embraced the Code and made it their own; they have experienced a dramatic improvement in the quality and attitude of workers. 

    Basically, it’s all about attitude. Poor worker attitudes and the resulting poor productivity is the number one complaint I hear from our member contractors and construction users. Based on what I’ve seen, the Code of Excellence offers a good way out of this destructive cycle. This leads me to the reason for adopting the Code of Excellence across our industry by means of Category I language.

    If we're serious about reforming our industry, we need to make some broad-based changes. Attitudes can be contagious. As they spread and are adopted by others, they form an industry’s culture. We want our industry’s culture to be positive, productive, and customer-oriented – not negative, self-centered, and doing the bare minimum.

    The construction user community is aware of the Code of Excellence, and they view it as one of the most positive changes in the union construction industry recently. Many are demanding that all of the union trades working on their jobs adopt a Code of Excellence similar to the one we’ve pioneered here. Our plan is to be out in front of the pack. We want to be able to tell our customers that our whole industry works under the Code of Excellence, no matter how large or small the job is. I see only good things about being able to do that.

  • Meet Geary Higgins

    Posted on Jul 06, 2007 by John M Grau

    Most local leaders of NECA know Geary Higgins. He’s been the top labor relations staff executive at NECA for over 20 years. So at a trade association where labor relations services are the top priority, Geary is a pretty important person.

    Geary Higgins, NECA Vice President of Labor Relations
    Geary Higgins, NECA Vice President of Labor Relations

    Geary is a tenacious advocate on behalf of management issues. Ask anyone from NECA (or the IBEW, for that matter) who serves or has served on the CIR where Geary plays a key role. They’ll tell you how tough he is. One advantage of his years and scope of service is that he developed and helped author much of the standard language found in NECA-IBEW labor agreements – which means that when that language needs to be interpreted or explained, Geary has the most knowledge in the room.

    As part of our new communications outreach efforts at NECA, we’d like to share more of Geary’s expertise with our members. Starting this week, Geary will be regularly posting a column called “Between the Lines” on the NECA website. He’ll focus exclusively on labor relations topics so readers can learn more about the hows and whys of standard clauses and agreements, as well as some of the background info on current issues. Like my blog, “Between the Lines” will have a place for readers to leave feedback and suggestions on labor relations.

    You may not know that Geary was named for his grandfather, Paul Geary, who served as NECA’s chief staff officer from 1946-1964, and that his father, Bob Higgins, was NECA Executive Vice President from 1965-1986.

    Geary is somewhat of an expert on Civil War military history, something he picked up when he attended college at The Citadel in South Carolina. Today, he lives with his wife Gail in a restored 18th century home in rural Virginia, which he carefully maintains and restores in his spare time. Geary and Gail are proud parents of three lovely, grown daughters. (A few years ago when the girls were still at home, Geary bought a male dog so he could have someone of the same gender in the house that he could relate to.)

    And if he isn’t busy enough, Geary is running for office as County Supervisor in Loudon County, Virginia, one of the fastest growing counties in the country. The election will be this fall.

    All this is to say that you should check out Geary’s column at Between the Lines on a regular basis and get to know him – and NECA labor relations – a little bit better.

  • Competitors with Heart

    Posted on Jul 02, 2007 by John M Grau

    Among the many homes and businesses devastated by Hurricane Katrina was J H Haynes Electric Company of Gulfport, Mississippi. On August 30, 2005, owner Jimmy Haynes discovered that every aspect of his company had been lost – the building, trucks, tools, and equipment. Jimmy faced the prospect of starting his business all over again from scratch or giving up.

    However, only hours after Hurricane Katrina struck, NECA members and chapters had begun sending contributions to a fund set up to help NECA members impacted by Katrina, Rita and other natural disasters. Jimmy Haynes received a check for $30,000 from the disaster fund. 

    It might seem that $30,000 was a small amount considering the size of J H Haynes Electric’s loss, but Jimmy told me that money meant everything to him. He put the money to good use, buying the phones, tools, and equipment that he needed to get his company back in business. He couldn’t believe that NECA members from as far away as Kansas City, Detroit, New York and from all around the country would be so generous in creating the fund and helping him out, but that’s what happened.

    At the NECA Southern Region Convention last week, Jimmy Haynes asked for a few moments on the agenda to tell his story and once again express his gratitude to NECA and its members. He then called District 3 Vice President and Disaster Relief Fund Chair Frank Russell to the podium, where Jimmy presented him with a check for $30,000 to repay the fund for the money he received. And then to everyone’s surprise, he handed Frank an additional check for $10,000 as his contribution to help other NECA members in future disasters.

    It was a heartwarming moment of incredible generosity. Everyone in the room was proud to be a NECA member and know that they are associated with the best electrical contractors in the world. 

    As I said in my last post, NECA members may be each other’s competitors, but they understand each other’s risks and challenges that come with owning and managing a small business. They know what it takes to make it through a tough time, and they can appreciate each other’s successes. It’s this spirit of competitiveness and sharing that makes NECA so great. Thanks, Jimmy, for reminding us about what really matters.

About NECA Transmissions

NECA Transmissions is a collaborative effort from CEO John Grau and NECA staff to provide insight and feedback on key issues from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry.


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