More Than 2,500 Apprentices Attend NECA 2018

On the first day of the 2018 NECA Trade Show and Convention, approximately 2,500 apprentices arrived by bus to fill an entire exhibition hall in the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The 2018 Apprentice Appreciation Day was a partnership between NECA’s Penn-Del-Jersey Chapter and the area’s local Joint Apprentice Training Centers.

For the first part of the program, the apprentices gathered in the exhibition hall for a workshop to hear from industry veterans about the potential of their careers. It began with a video of various industry participants giving their testimonies of apprenticeship. Cheers erupted as familiar members of the industry, some of them apprentices themselves, appeared on the screens.

John Dougherty, Business Manager, IBEW Local No. 98, was first to take the stage. He spoke to the apprentices about the value of apprenticeship, how apprenticeship has helped electrical construction keep up with an evolving industry, how apprenticeship was the beginning of a great career and more.

“I have everything I have because of the IBEW,” he said. “I was in your shoes. I was struggling to pay the bills.”

As a testament to the support he’s received throughout his career, he spoke about his wife’s illness and how he’s fortunate to have good healthcare, and he spoke about his ability to send his children to school because he made decent wages.

Mike Neill, Director of Apprentice Training, IBEW Local No. 98 ATEI, spoke about the advantages of apprenticeship in IBEW, including pensions, healthcare, diversity, and high graduation rates.

Neill expressed appreciation for the career he achieved through the program. It was a repeating theme throughout the event that many of the speakers referred to. They demonstrated that apprenticeship can lead to careers, personal stability and security, and success.

Todd Stafford, Executive Director, Electrical Training Alliance, spoke to the apprentices about how they’ve accomplished a lot just by being here.

“Apprenticeship is the beginning of your career, the beginning of your education,” he said.

He said apprenticeship will give the apprentices the tools they need to succeed.

“How we keep up to speed is only going to be promulgated through learning,” he said.

He spoke about the meaning of being in the IBEW. IBEW members have obligations to help each other, he said, and they have obligations to further their careers. He urged apprentices to find more people to bring into the electrical construction industry.

“We were all apprentices first,” he said. “We’ve been in your shoes. We know what it’s like.”

This was the strongest theme of the event, which presented these 2,500 apprentices with visions of their potential future. Though they are apprentices today, they could be the owner of their own electrical contracting company, the president of NECA, an executive in the IBEW, or more. The message was clear: this is the beginning of a great career.

The apprentices arrive at the Pennsylvania Convention Center
The apprentices arrive at the Pennsylvania Convention Center

Some of the event’s sponsors also had the opportunity to speak to the apprentices. Steve Richman, President, Milwaukee Tool, spoke about the company’s commitment to the electrical industry and the company’s focus on listening to those in the industry. Joe Saganowich, Vice President of Sales, Ideal Industries, spoke about the company’s history and about Ideal Nationals. He showed a brief video about the program and encouraged apprentices to get involved.

Finally, for the workshop, Michael Callanan, Principal of mC3, Michael Callanan Consulting Co. LLC, delivered the keynote on leadership in the industry. A difference in dynamics from the speakers before him, Callanan stepped off the stage and moved among the crowd, engaging the apprentices more directly.

“Your leadership needs to start today,” he said. “We need you to walk out that door and step into your role in this industry.”

He said we can’t really define leadership, but we know it when we see it. He encouraged apprentices to be leaders, saying no one is born a leader, because they are made through hard work and dedication. Callanan told apprentices about the benefits of leadership, including service to NECA/IBEW, the power to change lives, and fulfilling a calling.

Callanan said there are three steps to leadership: 1). Learn and love your craft, 2). become a great follower, and 3). begin to learn to lead.

Callanan also touched on the cultural obstacle of convincing people that a career in the trades is a good thing, and he urged the apprentices to think of themselves as artists and to take pride in their work.

“You’re painting pictures every day,” he said.

Finally, Callanan wanted to be sure they understood the fortunate position they were in.

“Never before have 2,500 apprentices had the opportunity to speak about leadership with both the president of the IBEW and NECA, both of which were once apprentices just like you,” he said.

After Callanan wrapped up, the program changed to a town hall format in which Lonnie Stephenson, IBEW International President; John Grau, CEO of NECA; David Long, President of NECA; and Geary Higgins, Vice President of Labor Relations, NECA, took the stage. As moderator, Higgins asked Stephenson, Grau, and Long questions about their career, and it demonstrated the powerful potential of apprenticeship and the places such a career can lead. They also took questions directly from the apprentices via a mobile app.

At the conclusion of the town hall, all 2,500 apprentices hit the show floor in force, and it was a fitting kick-off to the trade show, which is already breaking attendance records.

About the Author

Timothy Johnson


Timothy Johnson is the former digital editor for ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR magazine.

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