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It’s a dilemma that confronts business people every day. When does quality and value trump the superficial, yet alluring attractiveness of a cheap price?

The leadership and electrical instructors of the NECA-IBEW team wish that decision was easier than it often proves to be. But in the meantime, they will keep doing the one thing they can control – and that is working to turn out the most productive, most skilled electricians anywhere in the world.

We’re talking about the NECA-IBEW team’s annual gathering of industry instructors, an event known as the National Training Institute, or NTI. After 20 years in Knoxville, Tennessee, the conference was held this year in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and ETV’s Dominic Giarratano has the story.

People in the know understand one fundamental thing about the electrical industry: it moves at the speed of light. It’s a never-ending battle to stay ahead of the curve, and where the non-union industry consistently falls behind, the NECA-IBEW team and their partnership through the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee are always moving to stay on top of it.

Each IBEW local has a training school, and each school has electricians who volunteer their time to teach the next generation of journeymen, the students. But as you can imagine, it would be easy to get into a rut teaching the same old things the same old ways. So every year, they come together for one week to get up to speed on the latest techniques and methods. This training summit, called NTI, or the National Training Institute, is the crown jewel of the training year, and proves the NECA-IBEW team’s commitment to the industry and the companies who hire them.

So says Mike Callanan, the executive director of the NECA-IBEW National Training Committee.

Mike Callanan, Executive Director, NJATC
“We’re proud to have probably the finest electrical training institute in the world. This is our 20th year, we’ve assembled a great portfolio of professional educators from all over the country working every day with our instructors.”

Steve Ratkovich, director of training, Klein Tools
“There’s no better place to meet trainers and the next upcoming generation of constructors than NTI. These are the people that are the core of training for the industry.”

In the past, the NTI was held in Knoxville, but this year, the conference made a strategic move north and west to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan.

Bob Gider, Local 5
“I think the greatest thing I can sense from the move to Ann Arbor is how we’ve been accepted by the community here, and it feels good to be here.”

Greg Stephens, BM, Local 252
“We do well over 90 percent of the electrical work here in Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan, we do 99.9 percent of the electrical work. We always have and I think we always will.”

But it doesn’t take a business manager to realize that these are the best electricians in the industry. Even members of Congress pay attention when NECA and the IBEW get to work.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D – Michigan
“To see the kind of coming together between the contractors and the IBEW is really impressive. The training is very impressive and in the world of the future, and clean energy technology, the future is really happening right here.”

Rep. John D. Dingell, D – Michigan
“They contribute not just to the well to do, but they train people who are going to be able to move forward into better jobs, better opportunity and growth not just for themselves, but for the state and for the nation.”
It’s not hard to read between the lines – NTI is about taking the best instructors and translating that into training the next generation of electricians.

Dakari Shaver, 4th year apprentice
“The training that they give us, it covers a broad spectrum of the electrical industry. Lots of different things that your average wireman might not think that they need.”

Joe Kellams, Louisville Chapter, NECA
“We expect everyone to come in and give 110 percent and when we leave our schools, that’s only the beginning of your learning. Learning technologies, learning the trade, because you will continue to learn throughout the rest of your career.”

Dr. Charles Backes, director of professional education, NTI
“If I had to say what the real challenges are for the professional educators, it’s keeping up with the students. Because the students are such good students and they’re just so eager to learn, they wear us out sometimes.”

The NECA-IBEW trainers who complete this program are ultimately able to benefit both union and contractor alike. The joint apprenticeship model – contractors and union working together – is the only way to do it.

John Grau, Chief Executive Officer, NECA
“We are the one industry that is investing all this money into training, into our future, into putting quality into the product and that’s what NECA contractors are all about.”

Lindell Lee, Secretary-Treasurer, IBEW
“This is probably one of the fastest changing industries in the building trades, if not the country. And this is the way to stay on top of the changing industry.”

It’s important to look forward – and NTI is the way the NECA-IBEW team focuses on this generation of apprentices and journeymen, and beyond.

Mike Callanan, Executive Director, NJATC
“Participation in our national training institute is the best investment any local JATC can make. The dollars they spend here come back 100 fold.”

This year’s NTI was so successful, organizers are hoping to make the move to Ann Arbor a permanent fixture on the NECA-IBEW team’s training schedule.