By IEC Staff
Aey Electric is a family-owned merit shop electrical contracting business started in 1956 by Richard C. Aey out of his home. Today Richard’s sons Bob and Rick are at the helm of the Youngstown business. Bob’s wife Gloria and their sons Rod and Jake are among the valued 40 employees of the firm.
Believe in what you offer to hardworking men and women searching for a career.
That’s the thought behind the efforts of the workforce development team at Aey Electric, Inc. — Bob, Rod, and Scott Byer. They don’t feel the need to put on any airs or get fancy with four-color glossy brochures, interactive websites, or funny videos. Directing someone to the IEC Apprenticeship Program is enough. The three men are of one mind when it comes to building Aey Electric — identify potential, train well, and nurture continued excellence.
“We always recruit through the IEC Western Reserve chapter,” says Rod. “If a potential employee were to call the office, we direct them to IEC. Once with IEC, the person can note that they wish to interview with Aey Electric.”
This is a process established and agreed to by the 14 electrical contractor members of IEC Western Reserve upon the advice of their labor attorney, says Gloria. That’s also how Aey Electric handles it when visiting schools to talk about a career in the trades.
“We often speak to students at the Mahoning County Career & Technical Center and we use that as an opportunity to promote the IEC Apprenticeship Program school,” notes Rod. “We make sure they understand that IEC is a Department of Labor accredited institute where they will receive journeyman credentials, and we encourage them to apply. We make sure they understand that starting an apprenticeship is a clear path to a career.”
Bob adds that many of these students have not heard about merit shops so he presents that philosophy whenever he is in front of potential apprentices.
“I’ll get questions and perhaps the most common one is that they don’t realize that they’ll be working and getting paid to do so,” Bob says. “They think it’s just another school to go to. I also explain to them how broad the electrical field actually is. They know the residential wiring and the little bit of motor controls they learn in high school. They think of being an electrician mostly as a manual labor job and I tell them about the opportunities in lighting controls, programming, security and camera systems, high voltage work, and more.”
The Aey workforce development team talks about its pre-apprenticeship program as a strong recruitment tool for Aey Electric. Rod says they currently have two high school students who work with them three days a week.
“They’re classified as pre-apprentices with an IEC school enrollment date of fall 2024,” says Rod. “They will graduate high school in April with a written job offer that clearly states right now you are a pre-apprentice but upon graduation you’ll be reclassified as a first-year apprentice with a clear path to a career. It’s a lot like getting your college acceptance letter, but better. They know where they’re going — school at IEC Western Reserve, but it also gives them a real-life job too.”
Scott says finding motivated potential employees can be challenging but you know them when you see them.
“Across all industries, finding motivated people especially after the pandemic is pretty difficult,” Scott says. “You have to find those core people who have been brought up the right way. We need to be able to read through the people that are just showing up and saying everything you want to hear. They have the right answers to the questions you’re asking but is it all truthful or is it just wrapped up like a present?”
Bob, Rod, and Scott agree that they often start their search asking questions about what tools the potential apprentice might have used, have they climbed a ladder to the roof, can they work outside in extreme cold and burning heat? Answers to questions like these give them an idea of appropriate experience necessary to make it in the trades.
“Unfortunately, we’re seeing an overall lack of mechanical skills from applicants,” Bob says. “Things are different. When I went to school we had wood shop, metal shop, I could weld, and I knew how to use tools. More people had blue collar jobs and children could go help a parent who was a brick layer, or carpenter, or roofer. We see less and less people coming in who have done these things or even mowed a lawn or been up to the second story of a house on a ladder. It’s just different.”
The team says its number one retention tool is their tuition reimbursement plan. In their region, apprentices pay for their own schooling but at Aey Electric, they get it all back in the form of bonuses if they stay with the company.
Bob says other key retention strategies are to be competitive in wages, health insurance, 401K, paid vacations, and paid holidays.
“In the trades, it’s not very common to get paid vacation,” Bob notes. “We try to be flexible with our employees as we know things come up where you have to take care of your kids or need some time for doctor appointments. We’re close with our electricians — we talk daily and make sure they have the help they need for the job and listen to them about how the job is going and what they need to be successful. We’re right here for them. They’re not a number here.”
That’s the intangible, the culture, that makes Aey Electric the proper fit for an employee looking for that type of experience. And Bob says that it’s quite different from most who may be placed with different electrical contractors all the time.
“I can honestly say that everyone truly gets along here; there are no grumpy workers or people with bad attitudes,” says Rod.
Bob and Gloria point out that their workforce at Aey Electric is diverse, with representation from Asian, Hispanic, and Black employees, which helps to enhance their company culture and inclusiveness. Also, they have two female apprentices working with them as well.
“It’s a phenomenon that actually seems to occur organically,” Gloria states. “We don’t speak of it or align our company with specific groups; we just seem to attract a culture of diversity and have for decades.”
Rod and Scott identify a newer challenge that they are addressing with proper training and that seems to be a bit harder for those that have been around longer and used to the way things have always been.
“Keeping up with changes in technology is still a challenge for the workforce,” Rod says. “However, as time goes by the gap tends to narrow as far as knowledge of technology. It’s a matter of good training and being patient with the workforce.”
As the non-family member on the workforce development team, Scott personally can speak to how Aey Electric attracts and maintains loyal employees.
“I started in 2007 and went through the IEC Apprenticeship Program working at Aey Electric,” Scott says. “After graduation, I was in the field for maybe a year and a half and they asked me to come into the office, sent me away for some estimating training on the software we use, and I’m extremely grateful for that and for the continual support they provide to me. The Aeys welcomed me in, and I feel like I’m part of the family.”
That’s a culture that works.