Colton Burpo didn’t go through his early years saying, ‘I want to be an electrician when I grow up.’ But life’s circumstances, introspection, prayer, and trusted colleagues led him to this career. He currently works with Illume Electric (formerly Shaw Electric) in Avon, CO, and is a Western Colorado IEC third-year apprentice.
First stop on his career path was a couple years at a Bible college as he began his studies to be a worship pastor. During the summers away from school, he lived and worked at a Colorado golf course near some family in the Eagle County area. It was this seemingly secondary, seasonal work that opened the door to becoming an electrician.
“When I finished up with my two years of studies, I looked at potentially continuing in college in a business program, but realized I really didn’t want to go back to college because it’s expensive and I didn’t want to get into too much debt,” Colton says. “I had done landscaping work, I had done church office work, and was just trying to figure it out asking ‘God, what do you want me to do with my life?’”
Colton knew working with his hands and continually challenging himself were important to him. He contacted his old boss at the golf course.
“He gave me some really helpful advice and arranged for an interview with an electrical contractor he knew. I ended up staying in Colorado to work and learn,” he says. “I truly enjoy electrical work. I work at a smaller company; we have a crew of four to five guys so the thing I enjoy about that is a lot of times I don’t know what is going to get thrown at me that day. It continues to challenge me and keep me on my toes.”
Illume Electric primarily does residential work including many construction remodels. Colton enjoys getting ‘thrown into the deep’ work pretty quickly with the guidance of his journeyman.
“At a small company you learn quickly,” he says. “I remember my journeyman asking me, ‘Have you done this before? No, alright! Well, watch me I’m going to teach you how to do it on the first one and you’re doing the next one.’ It’s the best way to learn!”
Colton stresses that the work he’s assigned to varies from week to week. He recently got his residential wireman’s license and has taken on more responsibilities at the company. Whether it’s running remodels in the Vail area or doing technical support calls, he stays pretty busy.
“One day, I’ll be in a house hanging a 150-pound chandelier,” he says. “The next day, I go on four different service calls. The day after that, I’m in a ditch fixing a broken pipe.”
Colton says he likes going on technical support calls, as he enjoys the challenge of figuring out how to fix things and feels it is one of his strengths. The variety of challenges he faces day to day, week to week, month to month keep it interesting. He has learned to deal with changes to his schedule or the nighttime text to let him know they’ll be doing outside work the next day, so dress warm!
“You learn to just go with the flow,” he says. “I’m a pretty chill guy!”
Couple that work experience with the education received in the IEC apprenticeship program, and Colton feels he is being well prepared to move on in his chosen career. He is especially grateful for the code knowledge and interpretation he learns regularly in the classroom. And, for his teachers.
“All of them have different teaching styles. I was in person my first year and again in my third year but I was online for my second year,” he explains. “My first-year teacher, Matt Pfalzgraff, R&A, was a journeyman who had been working for almost 20 years and had trained many apprentices. He was a phenomenal first year teacher and so invested in helping us. If we had problems on a job, we would be able to either text him, or even just bring the issue to class, and we’d work through it with him. Since he was still in the field, he was able to walk us through the situation and offer advice on how to do different things.”
Colton says his third-year experience is quite similar with teacher and recently retired electrician Steve Hiscock. He found second year online classes a bit more difficult as he missed the option of being able to ask questions in class, do labs, and work through situations with classmates. It did have the benefit of not having to drive challenging Colorado mountain roads to get to class on time though!
Colton married Pearl in the summer of 2022, and keeps very busy outside of work and school. He is still involved with his church by volunteering with the middle school youth group and worship team, continuing to grow in his faith, and still travels with his family’s ministry. He is the subject of two New York Times best-selling books, Heaven is for Real and Heaven is for Real for Kids, which share his extraordinary experience during an emergency surgery as a young child.
“The apostle Paul was a tentmaker,” Colton says. “He would work with people around him – just live his life with them – and was able to preach the gospel. That’s something I see for my life as I interact with a lot of different people on the job and share my faith with them.”
Colton looks forward to finishing the IEC program, and then obtaining his journeyman and master electrician licenses to strengthen his credibility and marketability. In the meantime, he is appreciative of his opportunity to work hard, learn big, and interact with amazing people.