Steve Brandau was among local leaders to attend the recent ribbon cutting of the Western Electrical Contractors Association training facility in north Fresno. Photo by Frank Lopez.
Written by Frank Lopez
The Western Electrical Contractors Association (WECA) held a ribbon cutting Oct. 13 to celebrate the grand opening of its new training facility in north Fresno.
WECA instructors, staff, students, members, board members and leaders of the Fresno community were present to celebrate the grand opening and give guests tours of the facility, network with electrical contractors and see how apprentices in the industry learn the trade.
WECA is a statewide, non-profit organization serving independent and merit shop electrical contractors, their employees and the industry suppliers that support them.
The Commercial Electrician Apprenticeship program lasts for five years and involves both classroom and lab instruction the will be administered in the new facility, as well as on-the-job training.
Students are in the classroom for two weeks twice a year and work on the jobsite under a contractor or journeyperson for a 20-week segment. Site work is alternated with classroom instruction time.
The program consists of nearly 8,000 hours of training, a requirement set by the state of California.
“The expectation isn’t only that the contractor is building upon the curriculum that they are receiving in the classroom, but they’re giving students a broad range of work experience to compliment what we do here in the classroom so that when they complete the five year program, they have a well-rounded experience that could combine what they learn in class and on the job site,” said Richard Markuson, government affairs expert at WECA.
About 46% of the apprentices live in Fresno, with demographics measuring about 29% Hispanic, 16% Asian Pacific Islander, 9% African-American and 6% women.
Markuson said that local high schools have either cut or curtailed their career technical education programs, so there isn’t a pipeline from the high schools to construction apprenticeship programs. They are trying to mitigate that, he said.
Fresno County Supervisor for District 2 Steven Brandau and Fresno City Manager Thomas Esqueda were present to congratulate WECA on the new training facility.
“There is so much stuff going on in our Valley—private, government, everything,” said Brandau. “There is a lot of construction going on and it’s fantastic to have this facility so people could get their training here, go to work and stay here. We have to get a work force developed so that we don’t have to call in people from across the country to help us get things done.”
Mark Cooper, president and CEO of H & D Electric in Sacramento and who is also on the Board of Directors of WECA, drove down from the state capitol for the grand opening of the new facility.
Cooper joined WECA in the early 1990s, and even then he noticed the organization was missing an apprenticeship program.
Since then, Cooper has seen the apprenticeship program grow and is proud of how far it has come.
“The pride I feel in coming down here and seeing this facility and the building that we opened in Fresno, and seeing what this has all turned into with WECA staff members and leaders, and contractors that pushed this forward,” Cooper said. “The success is contagious and you want to be a part of WECA.”
One apprentice that realized the success that Cooper was talking about is Windell Pascascio Jr, founder and president of Imperial Electric Service in Fresno.
Pascascio has owned his own business now for five years, and went through the program from 2008 to 2013. During and after his apprenticeship he worked for the same company for about eight years and started Imperial Electric Service in 2016.
Today, Imperial Electric has 35 employees, and four of them are currently in the WECA apprenticeship program.
Pascascio said the apprenticeship program is a good opportunity for people in the Fresno area. Before, the program took place in either Sacramento or Riverside.
“Not a lot of people are fortunate enough to go to college, and now a lot of people in the Fresno area, and throughout the Valley will now know that there is a program that is here,” Pascascio said. “Not a lot of people can afford to go to Sacramento or Redding or Riverside every few weeks. Having it here is beneficial for the community and the economy.”