When asked why he chose to be an electrician, Francisco Zelaya answers vehemently, “Electric chose me.” The second year IEC El Paso apprentice had been working at Texas Electrical Contractors in El Paso, TX, for about six years when his boss asked him if he’d like to go to school and become a licensed electrician.
“They gave me an opportunity,” Francisco says. “Our company does electrical, plumbing, and mechanical, and I know so many of the great hard workers here. As a shop boy, I was exposed to all types of projects because I was running the materials, making deliveries to sites, assisting electricians and plumbers, stocking materials, doing office work. I saw Texas Electrical growing, I liked the people, and wanted more than just a job. I wanted a career. I said yes!”
Francisco is a United States Army infantry veteran, with an eight-year tour of duty where he was stationed in Alaska for most of that time. The Army shaped much of his working style, and he says he calls on that training often in his current work and life.
Francisco goes to school on Monday nights, and he finds classes and labs both challenging and rewarding. He also appreciates the instructors and his classmates, including the other 18 apprentices from his company. He says part of meeting challenges is to prepare and discipline himself for class, as instructors make the expectations quite clear. Part of that discipline is to be focused on class nights, even when tired after a full day of work in the field.
“We know what we’ll be working on each class day,” Francisco says. “Maybe we’re doing the work from page 1 to page 5 that week and the teacher lets us know that for next week, we should read into the next chapter. I know that it is to my benefit to stay on top of things and look ahead to the next week so that I’m ready. You can get lost if you haven’t taken the instructor’s advice. I also appreciate that apprentices are working as a community for the benefit of the customer community.”
Francisco uses an analogy to describe his progress saying that in year one, they are like crawling babies. They’re just beginning with all the tools, safety procedures, OSHA understanding, pipe bending, and running wire. In year two they’re standing and beginning to walk with entry into commercial in addition to residential, deeper dives into code, learning formulas, and more. He says to watch out because they’ll be running in year four!
“The instructors help us to be better at solving problems and they don’t do things for us but they explain, demonstrate, and share how to look for solutions if something doesn’t work quite right,” he says. “Apprentices help each other out, we look into our books, we ask questions. We all learn differently, and the instructors know that. We also need to remember that our brain is like a toolbox and it must be fully stocked.”
Francisco says they also pound home that the code book is the electrician’s bible; it does not need to be memorized but you do need to know how to navigate it quickly and efficiently.
On the Job
Francisco is comfortable with the teams he works with and the tasks he is assigned. That, of course, can vary each day and some days, it’s a continuation of work begun the day before. He describes a recent project to set up the fire alarm system in a large commercial building.
“We have to put a box in each of the four rooms and run pipe where it needs to go looping all around the building,” he describes. “We’re working around existing HVAC, other piping, lights, and more. Each room has a smoke detector and fire alarm connecting to a pulldown station. Of course, we’re installing everything to code and sometimes pipe runs go about 150 feet. It’s a big job, and we’re often working among other buddies doing mud and plaster, sheet rock, and tile. We’re also running cable tray in all the rooms and dealing with existing ceiling tiles and light fixtures. It’s great that one of my favorite things to do is run pipe.”
Francisco compares the plans for a job like this to a musical score — “you have to be looking at the same sheet of music, or you’ll be playing different songs!”
He is grateful to Texas Electrical for these opportunities and sends out a big thank you to all his fellow electricians, plumbers, and mechanical friends he has had the privilege of working with day in and day out.
“You guys are a blessing to work with,” Francisco says.
Because he is shown great support on his path to becoming a journeyman, Francisco prides himself on being there for his teammates. He admits to having so much stuff in his tool vest that it’s amazing he can move around smoothly.
“On a recent job at Coach Wally Elementary School one of my buddies was two zip-its shy of finishing off a room before quitting time,” Francisco says. “Of course, he knew to come ask me! I had them for him and he finished his day knowing that room was complete.”
The camaraderie and desire to help others out comes naturally for Francisco. He believes that at work and at home with his wife, son, and daughter too. It’s appreciated by those whose lives he touches.
“Francisco is a great student, and he has such a positive attitude about everything. I wish all students were like him,” says Sara E. Navaro, IEC El Paso executive director.
Francisco is excited about continuing to learn in class and on the job and perfecting his electrical skills. He’s thinking that he’ll be ready to take the journeyman’s test next year.
“I could maybe do it this year, but want to wait until I have that warm fuzzy feeling that alerts me that I will pass,” he jokes. “It’s better to be more prepared.”
He is extremely happy with where he is in his life and grateful for the opportunity to have a career that allows him to care for himself, his family, and his community. He says the Army taught him to evaluate what he needs to do in any given situation — to understand the mission and goals and then to carry it out.
“I feel comfortable here,” he says. “If you have a good crew, you share the load and work together to accomplish good things. I want to go to work, I want to be safe at work, and I want to come home safely. And, when I can, I think about how I can make this job just a little bit better for all of us.”
We’re with you Francisco — carry on!