Workforce Development Spotlight: Students Need to ‘Feel’ Electrical Work 

As IEC Executive Director Thayer Long says elsewhere in this issue of Insights, “IEC exists to help our membership develop a top-notch workforce for today and for tomorrow. We stand committed to recruiting apprentices and in all our communications position becoming an electrician as a viable career choice.” 

David Scott, with the Encore Electric human resources and benefits team since 1998, is currently director of external affairs and people impact. He is in lock step with that mission. The company prioritizes solidifying the trade and places great effort into recruiting the electricians of tomorrow. To David, that means catching their eye, telling the trade’s story, and constantly reinforcing how great it is to choose an electrical career. 

“We’re looking for the best and brightest who also happen to have mechanical aptitude,” says David. “It is my passion to bring the trades to a level equal with college.” 

In fact, he’d love to see celebrations when a young person signs on with a contractor to learn while earning.

“Just like when the star football player signs with a college, I’d love to see a big deal made when students sign with contractors,” he says. “Every kid deserves to be celebrated!” 

Attracting High School Students

But, first, electrical contractors need to interest the high schooler in the field. Enter the Encore Learning and Mobile Escape Room, ELMER for short, that gives young people the hands-on experience needed to help them see their capabilities. Attendees of the IEC Convention & Expo 2021 in Denver might recall seeing ELMER. 

“We used to visit the high schools and bring with us the coolest lab boards that we could think of,” says David. “All it would take is one person in the audience saying ‘I’m not going to touch that; I don’t want to get shocked’ and we’d lose our audience right then and there.” 

The takeaways are that until you learn about working with electricity safely, it is right to be cautious and even a bit intimidated. Experience the power of electricity safely, and students want to know more David explains. Encore wants to pique the interest of students, provide them with meaningful information, and encourage them to see themselves in this trade. 

Brad Arzt, an electrician superintendent, had the idea to bring a trailer to high schools. David had attended and enjoyed an escape room challenge and thought why not create an experience with low voltage that provides that safe – and fun – encounter with electricity? 

“We came up with a mobile escape room to connect with our audience,” says David. “People know how to flip on a light switch, they know how to plug stuff in, they know how to run a fan.”  

The Encore team kept brainstorming and ELMER was the result. Executive Director Dale Weis, IEC Southern Colorado, found the trailer that eventually became ELMER. The Encore team designed and built the escape room challenges using everyday technology that the kids would recognize and feel comfortable using. In 2022, ELMER visited about 30 schools and events throughout Colorado. 

Escape room fun begins the moment students arrive, with a slide show on everything a young person may want to know about entering the electrical trade. Major topics of the presentation include the educational timeline of an electrician, career possibilities within the trade, and benefits of joining Encore Electric. 

Presenters from Encore Electric inform students of the financial differences between a traditional four-year college degree and entering the electrical trade where apprentices are compensated for their time from day one. Also explained is the long list of future career opportunities available once entering the trade. From superintendent, to estimator, to vice president, Encore believes a career path in the trade knows no bounds.   

Following the presentation, students jump into the escape challenges. iPads are distributed to participants and the challenge begins. In a digital model version of the escape room, students begin a virtual scavenger hunt for an egg containing wiring instructions for the stations. Once the egg is found, groups enter the real escape room and start on the first of four electrical stations. Students are timed for how quickly they can complete the stations. A chance to compete while testing their mechanical aptitude doing something new makes for a memorable task for the students. 

David says the Encore team has been energized through the development and execution of ELMER as well. From having fun with the initial design and setup through seeing the excitement of possible future electricians testing their skills, it has been a win-win. 

Yet Another Idea

The investment to build a mobile escape room may not be for every company David acknowledges, so Encore offers another idea that also has been making an impact on young people considering their futures: 360-degree video tours of recent Encore Electric jobs.

“We filmed two videos during the height of the pandemic when it was impossible to do hands-on exercises with prospective apprentices,” David says. “Both were at active jobsites and were shot using a 360-degree camera so you can scroll around while watching electricians at work.” 

The first, McGregor Square, sits just to the south of Coors Field in downtown Denver, home of the Colorado Rockies. It is an entire city block and is three buildings surrounding a baseball shaped courtyard in the middle. In the video, with the help of their electrician guide, viewers tour the residences and the hotel, overlooking what will become the courtyard. 

Encore also filmed a 360-degree tour of the Pikes Peak Summit House, a project for which Encore just won the IEC National Award for Commercial Construction, Category D. Summit House is the highest building in the nation. 

“The new Summit House sits at the top of this gorgeous 14,115-foot peak,” David says. “In this video, we give viewers an in-depth look at what it is like to be an electrician for Encore. The video is shot on such a clear day you can see from the top of Pikes Peak all the way to the Front Range on the front side of the mountain and all the way to Mt. Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado on the back side of the mountain.” 

Both videos can be seen on the Encore Electric YouTube page.