By IEC Staff
Father and daughter Ralph Williams and Haley Downer are both instructors for the IEC Apprenticeship Program for IEC of Oregon. In Ralph’s first year of teaching 27 years ago, he and his wife Sandi had a baby girl, Haley. Haley currently is beginning her second year of teaching. Their passion for the job is beyond compare.
The Back Story — Ralph
“When I was 19 and had attended two years of college, I met my wife to be and decided that getting into the electrical trade would be the best route for me to support my family well,” Ralph says. “My grandfather was an electrician his whole life and I looked up to him. I was able to go to some job sites with him over the years and appreciated the work that he did. He had a large family and was able to support them through the trade. I knew that this was an excellent path to earn as I learned the trade through an electrical apprenticeship. During my apprenticeship and turning out as a journeyman, I loved sharing my knowledge and skills with others and felt that I wanted to get involved in order to give back to the trade as well.”
Ralph was hand selected for the apprenticeship program by the management team at Bear Electric, Inc. He went on to earn his Oregon electrical supervisors license (known as a master electrician in many states). As he grew in his career at Bear, he noticed that the apprentices coming in to work were clearly not getting the fine apprenticeship training he had received. That’s when he decided to step up as an instructor.
“My overall goal as a supervisor and as an instructor is to train up the future workforce to eventually replace myself in both areas,” Ralph states.
Ralph’s current role is electrician supervisor for the Clackamas County Department of Finance. Between three and five journeyman electricians report directly to him and he oversees another 30 or so electricians of various licenses.
The Back Story — Haley
At first, Haley held back from becoming an electrician, even though she always wanted to follow in her dad’s footsteps. She felt, ‘I’m a girl, and maybe I don’t have what it takes.’ Therefore, she pursued a career as a dental assistant. But it just didn’t feel right.
“I was pretty much capped out on what I could earn, and just wasn’t fully satisfied with that situation or with the work,” she says. “It was always in the back of my head that being an electrician would be so cool. I would be in a career where I’d be able to support a family.”
She took the plunge and was hired by Parkin Electric in 2017 and completed the IEC Apprenticeship Program in 2021. A recent move with new husband (also an electrician) to Albany, OR, saw her take a new job at Modern Electric in Aumsville, OR.
“I’ve worked in residential and industrial but specialize in commercial electrical work,” she says. “I have so much respect for all the journeyman I worked with at Parkin, but worked mostly with one in particular, Kevin Paulus. He taught me so many skills that I now share with my apprentices who work under me. He was always really supportive of me and just wanted me to kill it. They didn’t go easy on me, which I wouldn’t expect or want. All of this gave me the knowledge and confidence I needed in addition to the support I received from my dad.”
There was one other woman in Haley’s apprentice class, Evelyn. They bonded over the work, became great friends, and were in each other’s weddings.
Teaching Completes Them
The veteran Ralph has taught a bit of everything over the years but finds that first year and labs are especially rewarding for him.
“I enjoy teaching first years and building a strong foundation on their road to becoming the best electricians they can be,” he says. “I want to give my apprentices the experience I had when learning from qualified journeyman and supervisors in my program.”
Ralph stresses that the process of class preparation became much more streamlined when Oregon adopted the IEC curriculum, calling it an “outstanding tool” that truly helps outline the instructor’s plan. This applies also to the more challenging to prepare hands-on labs.
Haley says that almost from day one in the program, she thought about becoming an IEC instructor.
“My dad’s reputation is so good, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps,” Haley says. “As a second-year apprentice, I started volunteering in labs and events and found ways to help other apprentices.”
When she graduated and joined the ranks of IEC instructors, Haley was where she belonged.
“I knew I really loved teaching when I would have an exhausting day at work,” she says. “I’d be really tired and then I would go to school for three hours and it would give me energy. I told myself this has to be for me because there is no way somebody would be super excited to teach after a full day and actually gain energy by standing in front of a whole class of people talking, teaching, and directing.”
Both enjoy teaching code, calculations, and theory.
“I really love the hands-on activities like labs, conduit bending, and tool handling as well,” says Haley. “I like showing my apprentices easier ways to do things and showing them some tricks. I explain why I feel this is the better way and it gives them more tools on their belt.”
Ralph looks for those lightbulb moments when the apprentices understand the concept or see a new way of doing something.
“I like teaching calculations and NEC® code and watching the students ‘get’ it,” Ralph says. “I can say something one way and see that part of the class got it but the rest have that deer in the headlights look. I rephrase it a different way and then I see a few more lights coming on. I repeat, rephrase, and reiterate so that by the end of the class, everybody understands.”
Ralph talks about another method he uses — teaching by asking questions. What’s the square footage? How many boxes will you need? How do you figure out the full load amps? What is the conversion to minimum circuit capacities?
“I tell my students, ‘I know you know this. I just want you to tell me that you know this and get you thinking,’” Ralph says.
Cheat sheets, workbooks, review, and any and all methods are utilized by Ralph and Haley so that the students gain knowledge and confidence for the jobsite. Sometimes, teaching preparation helps them expand their own knowledge. Ralph cites combination circuits as something he struggled with in his apprenticeship. When you have to teach it and field questions on it, you solidify your knowledge and understanding he says.
Ralph and Haley find inspiration in each other, in IEC continuing education classes and training, and in putting themselves in front of the students every week.
Teacher’s Pet? Nope.
Yes, Haley had her first-year instruction with her dad. He might have been her daughter at home, but in class, she was a student who deserved to be challenged like every other student. No special treatment was offered.
And no special treatment was offered to Ross Downer, Haley’s now husband whom she met in that first-year class.
“I think he was a bit afraid and they didn’t start dating until we had only about three weeks left in the year,” Ralph explains. “They didn’t make it public until grades were out!”
Ross is an electrician as well, but works at a different company than Haley and she imagines it will always be that way. None of the three of them have worked together at the same company though they have worked together on family projects outside of work.
They are a close family and game nights are a favorite when getting together. Haley touts Sequence as her favorite board game while Ralph gives his nod to Cribbage. As a new homeowner with Ross, Haley enjoys home improvement projects, do-it-yourself crafts, spending time with family and friends, and plants — both inside and outside. Ralph cites family first and foremost, and enjoys activities like hiking, fishing, hunting, sports, and walking their two energetic dogs.
Never Stop Learning
Clearly this dynamic duo is an incredible asset to IEC of Oregon and Oregon’s future apprentices. They are willing to put in the time and sweat to make the field better for years to come.
“I am committed to always striving to learn, always challenging myself, and vow never to get complacent,” says Ralph. “I want to instill in today’s apprentices all they need to be tomorrow’s future. I love sharing my knowledge and skills with others, and truly believe I am teaching apprentices to replace me both in the field and in the classroom.”
Haley knows how special it is to have a role model like her dad and she wants to be someone that others can look up to as well.
“I want to be an inspiration to anyone who isn’t sure if they have what it takes to be an electrician, especially young women who may question themselves like I did,” Haley says.
Want to give back like Ralph and Haley? Explore becoming an IEC instructor today.