New Jersey IEC (NJ-IEC) has recently experienced outstanding membership growth. Two years ago, they went from having 57 electrical contractor members to having close to 150 and are continuing to grow. The increase in membership is due in part to the Public Works Law that went into effect on May 1, 2019. This law states that any contractor who is registered as a New Jersey public works contractor must comply with one of five methods to continue working on public works projects.
We interviewed New Jersey IEC’s Executive Director, Lynne Hovanec, to find out more.
Did New Jersey IEC do anything to influence the prevailing wage?
When the Public Works Law was first introduced, it did not have “association” listed as one of the methods of compliance. It basically limited public works projects to unions with about 90% of the work going to them. New Jersey IEC and its lobbyist were instrumental in adding “association” to the law, allowing Public Works contractors the option to join a union, consortium, or an association to be compliant. The Public Works law includes all trades; for NJ-IEC, it does not apply to electricians only, but includes security, fire alarm, and low voltage workers. Now these systems contractors have to belong to an association as well, which has helped to increase membership.
How did you achieve this growth?
Our biggest membership push is through mass emailing through Constant Contact. We have the email addresses of about 3,500 electrical contractors with business permits in the state and another 1,500 emails for those who work with security and fire alarms. We highlight one specific benefit at a time in our emails. For example, we let contractors know about our health insurance and how much money they can save by joining New Jersey IEC. We are the only electrical association in the state offering an association health plan. Two to three times per month NJ-IEC sends out an Action Alert email blast regarding the Public Works Law. We also mailed close to 600 post cards to those electrical contractors for whom we did not have an email address. This initiative was sponsored by Federated Insurance.
When I receive calls inquiring about NJ-IEC, I spend about an hour or more talking to each new interested member. Many electrical contractors start the conversation by asking, “What do I have to pay so I can continue being compliant?” I explain to them that we are more than just an association for meeting the requirement from the Public Works laws or a way to receive CEUs. Whether it’s the health insurance I previously mentioned, or the many benefits such as the safety manual or toolbox talks that they will have access to from IEC National, I share with them the benefits they will receive at a chapter and national level. I also share with them the various affinity programs IEC offers.
In New Jersey, electrical contractors are on a three-year license cycle. They need 24 hours of CEUs and a 10-hour code update workshop to remain compliant. In August, we plan to host a code update class for our members who also have an opportunity to receive CEUs at our business meetings. NJ-IEC instructors and partners ordinarily offer the CEU courses.
How are you handling the growth?
I became the Executive Director in March 2018 and also serve as the Apprenticeship Coordinator. Considering I’m alone in the office at present, I think I am handling the job and growth of our association well. I don’t feel overwhelmed due to the systems I have in place. Once I have a good rhythm, the work gets done smoothly.
What are your future plans for NJ-IEC?
There are three goals that NJ-IEC is currently working on. The first goal and our main priority is opening up a second location in South Jersey. We hope to sign a four-year lease for this second location and would like to open in September, but right now that is unlikely. In New Jersey, we fall under the U.S. Department of Labor and the New Jersey State Department of Education and must receive approval from both entities. We can’t submit for approval until the facility is completely built out and ready to operate with desks, chairs, projectors, signage, etc. in place. The new location is in a strip mall and there will be some modification that will need to be done before we sign the lease. The location will have a small office, a lab, and two classroom spaces. Our members have generously offered to donate their time and materials to get our new facility up and running. Our current plan is to open in January 2021 on an accelerated schedule, however, if we receive approval sooner that date could move up.
Our second big goal is to get our apprenticeship program back on track. Currently, we have first- and second-year apprentices. Under New Jersey’s Department of Education, we did not have approval for online training. They prefer in person classroom instruction versus distance learning. Our plan is to bring our first- and second-year apprentices back early in August for them to finish up the remaining classes. Right now, they are not getting any classroom hours, but are reviewing using google classroom and email.
The third goal we are working on is to use the donations that our members contribute to our ERISA fund, which is part of public works compliance, to expand our apprenticeship program and help us continue to grow. Anyone who does public work has to contribute to this fund which we use for tuition for apprentices who work with public contractor members, but it can also be utilized in many other areas of education and training. Finding the correct ways and making sure we are in compliance with the ERISA regulations is something that will take much consideration and time.
For almost 20 years, NJ-IEC has worked with a core group of contractors with a simple goal to expand and become an integral part of the IEC family. We have reached that goal and more than exceeded expectations. We look forward to continuous membership growth, apprentice expansion, and educational opportunities, as well as the camaraderie of being part of the IEC family.