IBEW Officials Highlight Need for Infrastructure Projects

From fiber optics to fire alarms, the nationally recognized NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center in Portland has just about everything it needs to train the next generation of electrical workers.

Everything, that is, except a major infrastructure project.

About 20 Vancouver-area elected officials, port officials, economic development and labor leaders participated in a tour last Friday showcasing the state-of-the art facility. The tour, sponsored by Keep Washington Competitive, gave visitors a chance to see how workers are trained in the classroom. But it was the lack of real-world, practical training that tour participants zeroed in on.

Washington’s electrical workers need big projects to develop their skills according to Mike Bridges, president of the Longview/Kelso Building Trades. Bridges emphasized the importance of big projects to union workers trying to launch their careers.

“I wouldn’t have gotten my opportunity to start in the trades if it wasn’t for a big project,” he told The Columbian.

A project like Vancouver Energy, the Port of Vancouver USA’s proposed oil transfer terminal, would provide more than 300 family-wage construction jobs and excellent apprenticeship opportunities for electrical workers and other trades.  Apprentices spend years cycling between projects and the classroom before they become “journeyworkers.” Right now, though, continued regulatory delays are pushing the construction of projects off, preventing newly trained electricians from applying their skills.

“We need all the chances we can to continue to train our apprentices,” said Matthew Hepner, executive director of the Certified Electrical Workers of Washington.

Vancouver Energy General Manager Jared Larrabee, one of the tour guests, said their project “fundamentally starts with world-class training and world-class workers.”

It’s time to recognize that the Vancouver Energy project is more than one infrastructure development – it’s an opportunity for Washington to develop its skilled labor workforce, train new recruits to fill upcoming retirements, and boost economic development opportunities in Southwest Washington. If approved, the project would not only contribute millions in tax revenues and wages to the state, but also give hundreds of union workers the chance to hone their skills and launch careers that will support families.

“This is how we fill that void,” Hepner told The Columbian. “By having good jobs where we can have better hours and actually practice everything we learn here on the job.”