Electrician Unions - IBEW 567 & IBEW 1253 - Accept Largest Ever First-Year Apprenticeship Classes
Work continues to be very strong for IBEW electricians as Locals 567 and 1253 accept record numbers of first-year apprentices. IBEW 567 in Lewiston has 55 first-year apprentices and IBEW 1253 in Newport has accepted 40 first-year apprentices.
“It’s the largest class we’ve ever taken in,” said IBEW 567 Training Director Justin Walsh. “Over the past couple of years it’s been busy enough that we split our classes into two, but this is the first year we’ve had to split it into three first-year classes.”
Walsh said the growth of new apprentices is being driven by a boom in solar installations thanks to favorable state renewable energy policies, as well as work on Maine Medical Center in Portland. The union contractor Sargent Electric has also recently set up a location in Lewiston and is now the second largest contractor in Maine employing IBEW electricians.
IBEW 1253 JATC Training Director George Howe says the solar boom as well as other commercial projects are also keeping his members very busy.
“We’ve got a lot of solar, some work in the mills and some projects for the University of Maine,” said Howe. “We’ve also got some hospital work. There’s no sign of work slowing down here anytime soon.”
Walsh said that in order to attract workers, solar contractors are paying rates that are well over scale with per diems of up to $150 a day. Electricians are in such demand that journey workers are able pick and choose where they want to work and are making decisions based on pay, geographic proximity and other factors. He noted that one contractor in the Gorham area attempted to put out a call advertising the typical journeyman’s rate and received no interest. After it raised rates it was able to hire enough workers.
Walsh said that normally the first-year apprenticeship program starts in September and the local begins putting apprentices to work throughout the year. However, there’s been so much work in the past year that the program continued to do interviews throughout the fall.
“Even though they missed the start of the school year, it was so busy that we kept putting people to work,” said Walsh. “So when we went to enroll the class at the end of this summer almost all of the apprentices had already been working in the field, which was pretty unusual for us. It’s usually the other way around.”
He added that there has been so much work, the union is considering opening a new satellite location in the Portland area for members in Southern Maine.
“The interest in the program is extremely high. I probably speak to three to four people a day that are all interested,” said Walsh. “We’re getting to the point now where we’re kind of outgrown the building.”