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Low-Voltage Apprenticeships: Training demand grows with energy-reduction strategies

By Susan DeGrane | Nov 15, 2023
Jake Schommer

Since 1999, 1,000 people have graduated from the Minnesota Statewide Limited Energy JATC’s apprenticeship program. The three-year curriculum covers installation of limited energy (also known as low-voltage) systems such as video surveillance, fire alarms, computer networking, sound, nurse call, DAS, intercom systems, fiber optics and structured cabling networks.

Since 1999, 1,000 people have graduated from the Minnesota Statewide Limited Energy JATC’s apprenticeship program. The three-year curriculum covers installation of limited energy (also known as low-voltage) systems such as video surveillance, fire alarms, computer networking, sound, nurse call, DAS, intercom systems, fiber optics and structured cabling networks.

“We anticipate significant growth in demand for limited energy installers and technicians with the application of newer strategies to reduce energy usage,” said Dave Dressler, statewide training director for the JATC. 

Apprentices are trained in Class 2, 3 and 4 limited energy circuits, Dressler said. “We work specifically on systems not used for power and lighting. We work with technology only, no inside wiring. Our JATC is devoted to this training and nothing else.”

The JATC serves five IBEW locals across the state: 110 in St. Paul, 242 in Duluth, 292 in Minneapolis, 294 in Nashwauk and 343 in Rochester. 

What jobs can graduates do?

Graduates are qualified to do installations, but becoming technicians and being able to program and diagnose systems requires additional training. They also must pass the state’s Power Limited license exam. 

ECs affiliated with different limited energy product manufacturers provide the additional training. The incentive is to secure maintenance contracts for brand-specific systems.

ECSI System Integrators in Bloomington, Minn., employs about 110 field personnel to do limited energy installations and perform related maintenance in multiresidential and commercial projects. Of those employees, about 80 are JATC apprentices or graduates, said Jerry Hein, ECSI’s president. 

Hein founded ECSI in 1997, two years prior to the JATC’s beginning. He has watched the curriculum evolve, trained apprentices and used journey-level installers and technicians. 

From the beginning, ECSI specialized in installation and maintenance work involving fire alarm systems, intercom, security cameras, card readers and more. The contractor’s steady growth eventually caught the attention of Hunt Electric Corp., a large-scale national contractor also based in Bloomington. This year, as a Hunt subsidiary, ECSI’s sales are expected to surpass $40 million. 

“ECSI is preparing to expand its limited energy service reach nationwide because rapidly developing technologies are driving installation and maintenance opportunities for us,” Hein said. He observed limited energy training has taken hold in California and New York, and more recently in Wisconsin. 

“We shouldn’t have to send people from Minnesota to Wisconsin to do this work. This type of training should have been happening on a national level 20 years ago,” he said.

Just one success story

Like the majority of the JATC’s apprentices, Brynn Kirtland grew up in the Twin Cities area. Though she studied accounting and business in college, she graduated in May 2021 from the JATC as the first woman to receive an outstanding apprentice award. Kirtland received her hands-on training at LVC Cos. Inc., Minneapolis, and continued working there.

Of LVC’s 275 employees, at least five others besides Kirtland have been honored as outstanding apprentices or runners-up since 2017.

“I’ve seen many training programs, but I feel this is one of the most respected and successful in the country,” said Bert Bongard, LVC president and CEO and an original member of the JATC committee. “It continues to turn out exceptional technical and state-licensed talent year after year.”

At Eleven on the River, a 42-story residential building in Minneapolis, LVC ensured critical operating technologies by designing and installing fire alarms, life safety, security, structured cabling and emergency communications systems. 

For her outstanding work there, Kirtland was promoted to project manager. Now, she manages many other limited energy projects, overseeing multiple technicians, installers and apprentices. 

“Having the training and knowledge as a journey installer enabled me to lend support to others in the field and to dive deep into handling project manager responsibilities right away,” she said.


Header image: Eleven on the River, a new residential high-rise in Minneapolis, contains critical operating technologies installed and programmed by limited energy apprentices and technicians employed by LVC Cos. and trained by the Minnesota Statewide Limited Energy JATC. Photo by Jake Schommer.

About The Author

DeGrane is a Chicago-based freelance writer. She has covered electrical contracting, renewable energy, senior living and other industries with articles published in the Chicago Tribune, New York Times and trade publications. Reach her at [email protected].

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