Surrounded by students, Ted Athanas, president of IEC Northern Ohio Board of Trustees and longtime board member Darren Saulnier celebrate Jim’s 23 years of service to the chapter.
Jim Pavlik, electrical service manager at Brewer-Garrett in Cleveland, OH, turned a ‘fill-in’ position into 23+ years of instructing for IEC Northern Ohio.
“My uncle Tony was the president of the IEC Northern Ohio chapter and they were starting the school,” Jim laughs. “They didn’t have an instructor so he said ‘hey Jim, can you fill in until we get somebody?’ That was 23 years ago.”
For Jim, this was an opportunity, not a burden. But, first, he was an electrician.
On the Road to Electrical
Jim came from a construction family. His dad owned a concrete business, and while Jim labored for him during his high school years, he knew that he didn’t want concrete work as his career.
“I started selling RVs, motor homes after high school,” he says. “I was actually pretty successful at it. I was a single guy, driving a brand-new car, paying room and board, and having some money in my pocket. I thought, great, I found my career.”
Jim says that worked well until the gas crisis hit in 1978 and the motor home business went down the tubes. His dad told him ‘now it’s time to start your real career’ and Jim expected him to say it’s time to take over the family concrete business. Instead, his dad said ‘you’re going to be an electrician.’
“Well, my grandfather was an electrician and my uncles were electricians, so the electrical business was in my family,” Jim says. “I agreed, and daddy got me a job with a small shop and I took to it like duck to the water. It went really well. I was in the field and got my electrical contractor’s license after about seven or eight years. I now had a wife and three kids so I was in a good place.”
His career has been rewarding, and Jim says he spent about half of it in the field and half of it in management.
“I feel I really excel at management, the organizational part,” Jim says. “I enjoy getting everybody ready to do what they’re supposed to do to get the job done right. I was hired by Brewer-Garrett in 1993 to start the commercial electrical division for them. The company began in HVAC, but has expanded into a range of energy services.”
Growing as an Instructor
That ‘fill-in’ position ended up being a great gift to Jim. It was 2000 when Jim began teaching both first and second year. While it was tough to do at the beginning, the joy it brought him in the end was well worth it
“They always say the best way to learn something is to try and teach it or explain it to somebody else,” Jim recalls. “I actually had a nun in grade school tell me that I would be a great teacher and a great coach someday. I thought no way am I going to be a teacher!”
When the chapter hired more teachers, Jim returned to teaching first year only and it is where he spent the rest of his teaching time before retiring this year.
“I always thought first year was so important for the school and for the students,” Jim says. “I thought if I could create just enough interest and give students enough to hold onto, that they’d come back and continue in the program. I wanted to make a difference in their lives.”
Understandably, technology has been the biggest game changer over the years says Jim. He talks about warning the kids who don’t bring their phones to class to do so!
“I tell them you can use that phone on the job and I teach them how to get information from the code book when on the job,” Jim says. “They have to be resourceful and know how to find things. Life’s an open book test, right?”
He loves and respects those first year students, indicating they are mostly 18 and 19 years old. They’ve chosen to go to trade school, make money as they go through the program, and not have college debt. They are eager to learn, Jim says.
“I try to show them the opportunities ahead by talking about my path,” he says, “I tell them what I think they should know about going through the business and how I advanced from the ground up. I started as an apprentice, I worked through to a journeyman, then to supervisor, then management. I tell them about estimating and other avenues.
“The hardest skill or concept to teach first years is to get them to believe in themselves; to understand that they can do this job,” he adds. “They can do it, do it safely, make a good living, and take care of a family. One of the best parts of teaching is to see the lights go on when you know they understand.”
Jim is super proud of the fact that several of his students are now teachers in the IEC program.
“They’ve stayed in the business, they’re doing well, and now they’re teaching to give something back to the industry,” he says.
Outside of Work
While retiring from teaching at IEC Northern Ohio, Jim continues his work at Brewer-Garrett but says he finds more time for things like having great times with his family.
“I have three great kids,” Jim says. “My son is an investment broker in southeast Asia, where he develops hotels and other properties. He lives part-time in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as we know it, and the rest in Miami Beach, FL. My oldest daughter is a lawyer who lives in Laguna Beach, CA, and is a single mom to my seven-year-old granddaughter – the light of my life. My youngest daughter lives about 15 minutes from me, sells steel and metal products, and is vice president of the Women in Steel Guild.”
Jim makes time to be with them as much as possible, which has always been important to him.
All those years when he was away one or two nights a week teaching, he still made the time to do a great job at work and at home.
“Our kids were all athletic, and we did a lot of traveling with the high school, club, and college teams for soccer, basketball, and track,” he says.
IEC Northern Ohio chapter leadership has seen the difference Jim has made in many lives. Upon his retirement, the chapter honored him in front of all IEC Northern Ohio students earlier in the year and again at graduation in June. The words on the plaque presented to Jim says it all:
In recognition of your 23 years of dedicated service to the apprentices and members of the Independent Electrical Contractors of Northern Ohio. We thank you for your decades of instruction, mentorship, and friendship. You jump started countless electrical careers, ensuring that your impact on the electrical community will last for generations. You will be missed!
Congratulations on your successful teaching career, and best wishes in your retirement.
From all of us at IEC Northern Ohio
IEC National thanks you as well Jim!