Karelyn Kruger, 45, is in her second year of a five-year training program as an electrical apprentice for Quality Electric in Boise. She’s creating a second career after working in retail and raising two children.
“I’m older than the average student,” she says with a wry grin. “I’m too old to go into debt and go back to college, so it seemed like a great opportunity to learn a trade, and they’d pay for my education while providing on-the-job training.”
Kruger had to pass an aptitude test, math test and have a GED or high school education to get into the Southwest Idaho Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JATC) program. Once you pass those tests, “you’re guaranteed a job” while you work under the supervision of an experienced journeyman electrician, she says.
Once people complete the five-year apprenticeship program, they may find themselves making a union salary of $70,000 with full health benefits and a 401K retirement plan, officials said.
“That’s a good livable wage,” says Larry Geyer, Health Care Facility Manager for Quality Electric. “We have high standards, but given the technical and safety demands of working as an electrician, it’s critical that apprentices are under close supervision when they’re learning on the job. When our people have completed the program, they are fully trained and ready for the workforce.”
Knowing that only about 47 percent of high school graduates go on to college in Idaho, working in the trades can be an appealing choice for men or women. Over time, state officials are seeing a slight increase in women choosing that path because the jobs pay well and require a strong skill set. As of last year, women comprised about 18 percent of Idaho’s workforce in trade occupations, a 2 percent increase since 2007.
Women are working as electricians, plumbers, iron workers, sheet metal fabricators, saw filers, welders, boilermakers, carpenters and more.
Kruger sees her apprenticeship as a second career, something tangible that will support her for the rest of working life.
“I really like it, I’m learning something different every day,” she says. “Right now, I’m wiring fire alarms in new buildings at Micron. Last year, we were working on wiring the labs next to people who are creating things to change the world.”
Currently, the Idaho Department of Labor partners with Idaho businesses to provide 381 apprenticeship programs in 102 occupations. Today, there are more than 1,700 active apprentices going through classroom and on-the-job training, with 215 program sponsors and 171 employer partners participating in the program. In general, IDOL covers the cost of the education training, and the employers pay students a competitive wage while they’re learning on the job.
Industry officials say the apprenticeship programs are vital to hiring and grooming qualified candidates for highly skilled jobs, and also key to filling positions at a time when all employers are having a hard time filling job openings statewide.
Geyer says they are constantly working to fill open positions at Quality Electric, which employs about 330 people in the Treasure Valley. “We’re interviewing 8-14 people per month,” he says. “We are busy, and we have electric crews working in every hospital in this valley. With a lot of Baby Boomers starting to retire in our industry, there are going to be lots of openings. Quite frankly, we can’t see how we’ll be able to hire enough people to meet our needs down the road.”
To fulfill her safety and education training, Kruger will need to complete 180 hours of safety education and training. Quality Electric has a specialized in-house training facility in west Boise. The classroom sessions are provided one night a week from 5-9 p.m. The full cost of the education is covered for apprentices from start to finish.
“Our apprenticeship and training program is second to none,” Geyer says. “We’re very serious about the work we’re doing here. It’s the most satisfying way of giving back to our industry and our community to produce a top-quality workforce.”
Given the depth of training available with Quality Electric, Kruger could end up working on electric systems at Micron, the hospital industry, solar industry or wind power industry.
“You have to put in the time and the training, but I’m looking forward to learning more and having a great second career in the electrical industry,” she said.
Editors / News Directors – For images or video footage to accompany this story, please call Larry Geyer of Quality Electric at 208-375-1300 x 1122.
Steve Stuebner writes about Idaho apprenticeship programs for the Idaho Department of Labor.