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IBEW Local 402 is Now a Certified NCS Training Provider

September 4, 2020

Thunder Bay’s Local 402 is now the third IBEW local in Ontario to become an official training delivery agent (TDA) for the network cabling specialist (NCS) apprenticeship program.

On August 21, 2020, Local 402 Business Manager Glen Drewes answered the phone. On the other end was the Hon. Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, calling to deliver some good news. IBEW Local 402 was now a certified network cabling specialist trainer.

“This will open new doors for the contractors that we work with,” said Drewes. “The IBEW has been in the electrical business for more than 125 years now. The industry is changing to new computer-based electrical systems and technologies like power over ethernet (PoE). I pursued the 631 NCS apprenticeship program because I believe that the IBEW needs to be on the cutting edge as the industry changes.” 

The NCS program will take apprentices through 4,600 hours of training, including two school sessions of 300 hours each. The first class is slated to start in the spring of 2021, and the program is open to both IBEW apprentices and non-union apprentices. A large component of the training program will be delivered virtually to both ensure safety in light of the coronavirus, and to overcome the challenges of long-distance travel in Northern Ontario.

Two other IBEW locals in Ontario are already certified, IBEW Local 353 in Toronto and IBEW Local 105 in Hamilton. They both helped Drewes get the program going in Thunder Bay.

“I’d really like to thank Susan Boorman of Local 353 and Chris Swick of Local 105,” said Drewes. “They were both extremely generous with their knowledge. Also, Melissa Young, the Executive Director of the National Electrical Trade Council (NETCO), provided invaluable assistance in navigating the application process.”

Delivering the Skills That Are in Demand

More and more organizations are starting to use power over ethernet (PoE) systems. PoE delivers low voltage DC power over computer data cables and makes separate AC outlets and wiring unnecessary. As a one-cable solution, PoE makes the deployment of Wi-Fi access points and smart devices much easier and cost-effective.

There are lots of possibilities for these devices, including sensors that control lights, temperature, and even life safety systems. The energy savings that can be found with PoE lighting systems alone can be very important for large facilities and municipalities. For example, the city of San Diego, California, saves over $250,000 annually using PoE smart street lamps.

“I’ll always remember the incident reported where a senior died because of burns from an improperly installed in-floor heating system,” said Drewes. “If the temperature of the floor had been controlled by a smart device, perhaps that tragedy could have been averted.”

Demand for PoE systems has been growing and is expected to continue to grow. The new TDA designation will mean more opportunities for the ECAO contractors that work with the IBEW.

“I have more than 30 local contractors who have to subcontract work to others that specialize in network cabling,” commented Drewes. “After our first apprentices graduate from the program, that will no longer be the case.”

A Game Changer for Northern Ontario

Local 402’s jurisdiction covers approximately 535,000 square kilometres (an area almost the size of France) and includes over 90 First Nations communities. Many of these communities are not connected to the electrical grid and are only accessible by bush plane.

Drewes has long had a vision of engaging more young people from First Nations in the electrical trade and feels that the new NCS program provides another opportunity to make connections.

“The new NCS trade will allow us to open new doors for the young people in those communities and allow them to get into an apprenticeship program they can take pride in,” he commented. 

“As we speak, 23 of those 90 communities are getting power lines and fiber optic cables. This will bring the internet into their homes, and creates a perfect opportunity for them to engage into the 631A NCS trade with an IBEW contractor.”

Other initiatives that Local 402 is working on, like distance training delivery mechanisms, will allow apprentices more time at home rather than having to be in-class full time. Considering that “home” may be a six-hour drive away (or more), this will open up access to a whole new talent pool for the local.

Changing with the Times

For Local 402, working to overcome the unique conditions in Northern Ontario is an ongoing challenge. The new NCS TDA designation will provide a new advantage, along with a new pre-apprenticeship program with guaranteed placements coming in Spring 2021.

“For many years the community colleges have had a monopoly on this kind of trade training,” said Drewes. “Now people with on-the-job experience will be able to help educate the next generation of tradespeople.”

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