They came. They saw. They made a difference. For attendees of the June 2023 IEC Workforce Development and Policy Conference, it is an experience they won’t soon forget. A few attendees offer their reports below.
Julie A. Brown
IEC Kentucky & Southern Indiana
IHG Consulting LLC
Julie is the owner of IHG Consulting LLC and responsible for accounts payable / accounts receivable, human resources, safety, review / sign contracts, public relations, and accounting as well as deciding what jobs to bid/estimate.
“I don’t usually get into politics but since becoming a business owner in 2017, I have been more affected by the policies and laws that govern my business and in turn my life,” Julie says. “I began to realize that it is my responsibility to advocate for our business and industry. To do that, I must be aware of the issues and the bills that are being discussed in Washington.”
In the various meetings she had during the IEC Workforce Development and Policy Conference, she felt heard and validated by her legislators. She was surprised to learn that members of Congress actually enjoy meeting with their constituents and she and her husband Jack and others from the chapter were busy all day.
“I met with Brett Guthrie (R-KY) personally and with legislative aides for Senator Todd Young (R-IN), Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), James Comer (R-KY), Larry Bucshon (R-IN), Erin Houchin (R-IN), and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY),” she reports. “Most of the meetings were standard. We introduced ourselves and talked about the Fair and Open Competition Act and how Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) are destroying our small businesses. Most of these members were cosponsors of this Act so we thanked them for their support. We also discussed the Perkins Act and that we are in favor of this Act that gives funds to students for postsecondary education to obtain the skills necessary for whatever path they choose. The aides were very attentive, took notes, and wanted our contact information.”
She was excited to learn more about the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) during the educational sessions at the IEC conference and felt the citizen advocacy training was very helpful in addressing and talking to the members of Congress on Hill Day. This training went into detail about how legislative offices are organized and responsibilities of different staff members.
“We had the unique opportunity to meet with our representative for the district we live in and the representative where my business resides,” she says. “We met with Brett Guthrie three times while in D.C. He gave us a tour of the Capitol Building on Tuesday. He was present at the PAC dinner and then he met with us personally on the Hill. James Comer, who is the representative where my business is located, was present at the PAC dinner and we saw him in the airport and spoke with him there. They were both congenial and willing to listen and provide support. I was pleasantly surprised by their openness to discuss concerns regarding the current workforce shortage. I will be contacting Rep. Comer and Rep. Guthrie via mail to thank them for their time and attention while in D.C.”
IEC Kentucky & Southern Indiana
Vice President / Estimation-Design
IHG Consulting LLC
Jack handles the design services and estimation of projects for the company and also is the president for the IEC Kentucky & Southern Indiana chapter.
A regular attendee of the IEC policy conferences, Jack looks to gain insight and an outlook for the industry from the standpoint of the federal government. He was not disappointed.
“One of the most surprising items learned from this conference is that despite interest rate hikes and the looks of a looming recession, construction looks to still be strong and moving forward for most parts of the country,” Jack says.
Jack shares these learnings for the benefit of Insights readers.
The Workforce System: The workforce system at both the state and federallevel are the most under-utilized resource available to the industry. Strong partnerships with these organizations give solid resources built around community needs particular to a specific region. They are engrained locally into communities around the country to allow some flexibility on programs that could help develop workforces individually tailored to each community’s shortages. The solution involves the involvement of particular industries. Therefore, it is important to have representation from one’s industry to serve on those committees.
Electoral Analysis and Prognostication: The election cycle we are entering is imperative for merit shops. There are so many races across the country that have open seats or are tight races that voting is imperative in this cycle. The one item that stood out the most was the fact that even the primaries are important to make sure the candidate in the general elections is formidable enough to run a good race against the opponent. Helping support the correct person, not just the party, is imperative in this election.
Workforce Recruitment: The executive directors did an outstanding job in their panel presenting very creative ideas about getting people into our industry. The need for this panel proves the systemic employee shortage problem faced all over our nation. The reality of our industry and others around the country is that interest in our field must be introduced as young as elementary school. The use of social media becomes important to promote diversity in the electrical field supporting the fact that the craft is different from day to day. The creative thinking with mobile trailer, finding interaction ideas, and the use of virtual reality seems to be a step in the right direction.
Jack returned home energized and ready to look at his IEC chapter and the underutilization of the personnel he has for lobbying.
“We are going to try to get them involved at the national level as well to help us gain insight on the bills coming out,” he says.
Scott has been with Dvorak since 2009 and focuses on medium voltage work. The company is based in Maryland and also does much work in Pennsylvania. He’s passionate about workforce development, visits private and parochial schools to talk about the trades, and is a 2023 Emerging Leader leading a project tackling and evaluating strategies for effective employee retention.
Scott admits that he had never participated in a conference like the IEC Workforce Development and Policy Conference and was, in fact, pretty closeminded about the advocacy part of the conference.
“At first, I didn’t think going to the Hill would benefit us much,” he confesses. “I imagined they’d listen, take notes, and trash them later! In reality, I definitely felt heard and felt the legislators were interested in the topics I brought to them.”
Scott tag teamed with IEC Pennsylvania Executive Director Marissa Bankert on visits with aides from Representatives Dan Meuser (R-PA) and Lloyd Smucker (R-PA), Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and John Fetterman (D-PA), and a few others.
It was the meeting with Rep. Meuser of Pennsylvania’s 9th District that seemed to gain immediate traction.
Scott was laser focused on being heard on two issues: getting equipment, especially transformers, and the huge increases to obtain CDL licensing.
“I explained to Rep. Meuser’s aides the Issues in the industry around getting equipment, including transformers,” Scott reports. “We’ve been having problems getting core steel which we use to make transformers. The reason is that core steel also is being used in electric vehicles and for batteries. It’s more profitable for companies to sell to those using it for this reason.”
Scott says just two manufacturing plants produce core steel — one in Pennsylvania and one in Detroit. These companies can’t keep up with the demand he says. Rep. Meuser’s office definitely heard the problem and called Scott’s office the next day to work with them to schedule a focus group virtual meeting the next week. It included Dvorak, First Energy Home Builders, IEC, and Meuser’s representatives to discuss and better understand the problem as well as float ideas about how to fix it.
“There is definitely no easy fix,” Scott says. “We need less demand on the manufacturing system that is struggling to get the raw materials. The timeframe would be long to build another plant. I’m making sure that Congress knows and understands that as they push electric vehicles, they create issues for other industries clamoring for similar materials.”
Scott and Dvorak provided transformer data to Meuser’s office, as the representative intends to use this information to gain synergy and form a bipartisan coalition to look into the issue. Scott reached out to IEC Chesapeake Executive Director Grant Schmelzer and intends to partner with them on work they are already doing in this area.
The second issue he brought to his legislators’ attention was the immense increase in costs to obtain CDL licenses.
“The Department of Transportation changed the rules and regulations on how to get CDL licensing, which significantly changed our costs,” Scott says. “What used to cost $2,000 now costs $10,000 for one license for one person. The United States is having a hard time getting truckers, school bus drivers, ambulance drivers, fire truck drivers who all need CDLs. This Department of Transportation action hurts so many industries.”
IEC Kentucky & Southern Indiana
HR & Payroll Manager
TEM Group, Inc.
Renee oversees payroll, handles most all human resources items, and also serves as an administrative assistant to project managers, helping with submittals and anything special needed for projects.
“I chose to attend this conference because I had been told we would be advocating for merit shops and workforce development,” Renee reports. “I really didn’t know what to expect because I had never participated in anything like this. I hoped to learn more about how to make your voice heard in our government.”
Renee was actually surprised at how willing government officials are to meet and discuss issues with their constituents and how they seemed genuinely interested in what they had to say.
“We met with aides for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Erin Houchin (R-IN), Morgan McGarvey (D-KY), Sen. Todd Young (R-IN), and Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN),” Renee says. “Since the majority of the senators and representatives we visited are Republican, they were in agreement with our policy concerns. Several stated they had, just that week, co-signed some of the bills we discussed.”
For Renee, the educational sessions also offered in D.C. were secondary to her purpose for attending; she found value in a few. She says the discussion, Workforce Recruitment: Best Practices, was the most informative.
“The three panel members talked about their experience with recruitment from several avenues and how well each worked for them,” she says. “I learned that we need to start planting the seed much earlier than I thought — middle school age or younger. They also discussed recruiting from the homeless population. While many homeless individuals may be unemployable in our field, there are many that would welcome learning skills and possibly be able to have a career and become independent. Our chapter already goes to job fairs and partners with the schools, but this is difficult because most of the counselors and principals are still pushing academics rather than trade schools.”
Renee found OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Mandy Edens informative as she discussed OSHA efforts to train and hire more inspectors and some new policy proposals, such as heat-related issues beginning at 85° F and changes in the way fines are issued.
“I enjoyed listening to both Representative Burgess Owens (R-UT) and Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC),” Renee states. “Both were outspoken in support of our industry and proponents for merit shops.”
Renee returned home with plans to email the representatives she met to follow up on issues discussed. She indicated each senator and representative they met with was issued a standing invitation to visit the IEC Kentucky & Southern Indiana chapter.
“If they do come for a visit, I will be in attendance,” Renee states.