Havre Daily News
A new electrical program will follow in the footsteps of a successful plumbing trade program at Montana State University-Northern in 2006.
In September, the state board of regents approved the program, which has been two years in the making and is the result of a collaborative effort between state and university officials and electricians across Montana.
A university official and a local electrician said Monday they hope the program will reverse a nationwide trend and bring more young workers into a field that has an aging workforce that is beginning to retire.
The trade program will be the first of its kind for aspiring electricians in Montana.
The two-year associate degree program will produce graduates who will be well on their way through their apprenticeship and will be able to take advantage of a career that is ripe with possibilities, MSU-N technical sciences dean Greg Kegel said.
”Not only is there jobs there, they're well-paying jobs with great benefits,“ Kegel said. ”They are really a good means to make a living.“
The program will benefit both students and employers, said Mark Maki, who is the director of apprenticeships and training programs for the state Department of Labor's Workforce Services Division.
”It's going to provide a great blend of college education and practical experience,“ he said. ”It's a benefit for Montana and for the occupation.
”It's going to give a kid who wants to make a career choice a really good leg up on getting these apprenticeships,“ Maki added.
Many trades are seeing workers retire, with fewer young workers in the field ready to take their place, Kegel said.
”This goes across the spectrum,“ he said. ”It's at a crisis right now. We're projecting - in all technical-related fields - big, big shortages of what we call qualified workers.“
Terry Schend, an electrician with Schine Electric, was one of seven tradesmen who testified before the board of regents. He chairs an ad hoc advisory committee that has worked closely with the university and the state Department of Labor and Industry. He echoed Kegel's sentiments.
”At the end of the two years, (graduates) will probably be recruited by contractors around the state and probably from several states,“ Schend said. ”Everybody's looking for people.“
The electrical and plumbing trades are the only two that require a license, Maki and Kegel said. For years, young people who wanted to learn those skills had to do so by way of apprenticeship.
The plumbing and electrical programs at MSU-N will enable students to tackle the needed schoolwork, and credit earned in school will count toward apprenticeships, Kegel said.
Electrical graduates will need to continue to study under a master electrician before they meet the requirements to take their journeyman's exam.
”They've got a very good running start,“ Kegel said of future graduates. ”They've made a commitment that that's what they want to do.“
Kegel said he hopes to start offering correspondence courses for electrical apprentices in February. A full-time program will begin next fall.
Many apprentice electricians take correspondence courses through the North Dakota State School of Science, Schend said.
He said the new program will keep Montana dollars in the state and provide opportunities for young adults here.
Schend said the board of regents was impressed with the proposal.
”The board of regents looked at it and thought it was a very viable program,“ Schend said. ”It would have been pretty hard for them to say no.“
Maki said MSU-N deserves credit for staying ahead of the curve when it comes to technical programs. The plumbing program represented a new brand of cooperation between education and industry, and the electrician program followed the same process, he said.
”MSU-Northern has been kind of a pioneer,“ Maki said. ”We've never had much of a linkage with higher education in Montana. They came to us and asked what it was going to take to put this together. All of the advice we gave them, they followed to a T. MSU-Northern has been all ears for what the industry is asking for.“
Kegel said he believes the electrical program will receive the same amount of support garnered by the plumbing program, which began last fall. He said the university received $70,000 in pledges in one day when it made calls about the plumbing program to tradesmen across the state. Those pledges were followed up with generous donations of equipment and supplies during the following year, he said.
”They rallied behind it,“ Kegel said. ”It was a huge endorsement for the program.“
Electricians have supported the new program through their work on its curriculum and their testimony before the board of regents, he said.
”The electrical people have totally embraced it from the support side,“ he said. ”We expect to have a lot of the same support that we got for the plumbing program.“
Kegel said the university expected to begin the plumbing program with seven students, and 11 enrolled for the first year. This year, 16 more signed up.
He said he has already received phone calls from parents who are interested in learning more about the electrical program.
The school will begin to do more to inform students, parents and schools about the trade offerings, he said.
”We're going to start a major campaign about our trade programs up here,“ Kegel said.
In the coming years, the university plans to create a program for construction trades that would be the ”third leg of the stool“ in the school's trade course offerings, he added.