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Electronic apprenticeship training is lifeblood for low voltage industry

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When the doors of the new electronic systems laboratory opened last spring, apprentices of the Associated Builders and Contractors Electronic Systems Technician (EST) Apprenticeship and Craft Training Program walked into a world-class facility with state-of-the-art equipment.

"This is tremendously exciting for us," said Kevin Hartnett, chair of the EST Committee at ABC. "Hands-on training is the lifeblood for our industry, so having this laboratory is a wonderful opportunity for our apprentices and trainees."

The electronic systems lab provides training for apprentices enrolled in ABC's EST Program, which requires 6,000 hours of on-the-job training and six college semesters of schooling in low-voltage systems. Students are trained in a variety of low voltage installations, including fire alarm systems, closed-circuit television, intercom systems, telecommunications systems and nurse calling systems. The labs were constructed under the direction and coordination of John Glinatsis, an ABC member and one of the program's apprenticeship instructors. Other industry veterans involved, included Jesse Elliott and Lee Donahue, both instructors and employees of Laser Electric Inc., and Greg Eyer, ABC facilities manager.

According to Hartnett, president of Laser Electric Inc., the lab offers a "wonderful opportunity for our trainees - and for the companies who hire them."

Hartnett joined ABC in the 1990s. "My grandfather was a utility lineman in Montana; he worked for a short time on Hoover Dam when it was under construction during the Great Depression. My father started as a motor winder and became a construction electrician. During high school I wired miles of tract homes working as a summer helper and was bored by the monotony of tract house wiring. I swore I would not follow in my family's footsteps. Then I got a job as a marine electrician helper at NASSCO and began attending classes. I learned so much in those two years and realized I was hungry for more. When an opportunity to serve a four year electrical apprenticeship in construction came along, I jumped on it!"

Hartnett's experience isn't unique. Many ABC members come into construction almost by accident - and then take advantage of training opportunities to move their careers along.

"My emphasis has always been on training and safety. I have had the chance to give back to my trade by mentoring others and providing opportunities for their continued professional growth," Hartnett said. "Now I've built a company I can pass on to my children, and future generations of electricians as well. ABC -- and its training programs - have helped me achieve that success."

Four years ago, a small group of electrical contractors, inspired and led by Hartnett, pioneered the EST Program, when he saw the need for expert training in low-voltage systems.

"My own company was doing a substantial amount of low-voltage installation work, and other ABC members were also asking for a program to help low voltage contractors train their workforce," Hartnett said. "So I took the issue to ABC's Training Trust. We saw an opportunity to serve our members and at the same time, provide more training opportunities for individuals coming into the industry. So, we organized a committee and an EST program was born."

From there, ABC began funding a craft-training program, while commencing the process of becoming a registered state-approved apprenticeship program, which it received from the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards two years ago.

"ABC's program allows my company to compete in the public works arena," Hartnett said. "For Laser, projects like the Veterans Hospital in La Jolla, the San Diego Police Headquarters and UCSD are very important. Without ABC, we would have to rely on our company staff and resources to train. With ABC as our training partner, staff can focus their attention on projects and clients."

This year, as chair of the EST Committee, Hartnett's goal is to increase the level of participation by more contractors and involve more apprentices.

"ABC is a growing and visible part of our community," Hartnett said. "Being a member of ABC adds credibility to a company and raises it to a higher level in San Diego."

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