Electrician Josh Lira says he learns best by doing. As an apprentice, Lira got to train with several seasoned and skilled mentors, and he didn’t let a moment go to waste. He tried new things on the work site each day, asked his mentors questions to help explain the process and balanced the hands-on training with classroom work. Lira managed to complete his five-year apprenticeship in four years, and today he is working as a newly licensed Ultimate Journeyman: the head of a team running electric. “Going through the apprenticeship was the best choice I’ve ever made," Lira said. “I tell others starting out in the field to take all of it seriously - the classroom work as well as work on the sites. The journeymen are always willing to show you how to do something, so the more effort you put in the more you get out of it.”
Lira came to electrical work after a decade in the oil and gas industry. He worked as a manager for a manufacturing company bought out after the oil crash, but soon he and his colleagues saw reduced hours at work. When the “boom and bust” nature of the industry took a toll on his income, Lira looked for a more stable career that could provide the single father steadier income and a better schedule to spend time with his 12-year-old son. “When the oil industry crashed, I wasn’t making enough income to support my family, and a friend told me he had gone through an apprentice program,” said Lira. “I was ready for a new opportunity, so I jumped in. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made,” said Lira.
Lira’s union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, provides invaluable support to its members, helping set up each job and ensuring members receive good benefits and fair pay. They manage the apprenticeship program and curriculum Lira and others participate in. While there’s certainly no such thing as an “average” day on the job, Lira spends most of his time bending pipe and running circuits for lighting, control units or switch gears at commercial and industrial construction sites. He stays on a construction project until completion, and each new site can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.
Most recently, Lira helped build an extension for a local hospital, a project that lasted a year. In six years, he has completed 20 jobs on multiple sites and in several locations. He says the variety and rotation keeps his work interesting by bringing new challenges and keeping his skills fresh. “I like working on different sites,” Lira said. “I don’t get bored of one location or one type of work. I get to meet new people and do something different at each job.” Lira was able to complete the thorough registered apprenticeship program for an in-demand field with a network of support. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers developed Lira’s program in a flexible way so that he was able to complete it early and earn his license in four years, a full year before other programs. Now Lira works predictable hours while earning a steady income in a field he enjoys. He is able to support his small family, and he was able to do it all while being paid to learn.