Training the Next Generation of Utility Workers

For two days in March, West Virginia high school students who participate in career and technical education classes at various career centers gathered to test their skills and be evaluated by experts at the SkillsUSA state competition. Local 304 President Stewart Whitehair and member Ricci Bodkins, both electricians at Monongahela Power’s Harrison Station, served as judges in the competition for aspiring electricians. 

Local 304 President Stewart Whitehair (right) and member Ricci Bodkins helped prepare the room for the industrial electronics competition.

SkillsUSA is an organization that works to develop students for jobs in various career fields and strengthen the nation’s workforce by turning out ambitious and employable young people who are interested in careers in vocational and/or technical jobs. Established in 1965, it has affiliations with 53 state and territorial education associations, teaches skills in 130 different job categories, and reaches 17,000 classrooms every year. SkillsUSA holds annual career competition events showcasing the best career and technical education students. Contests begin locally and continue through the state and national levels.   

Whitehair has been on Marion County Technical Center’s advisory council since 2018 and says the school is an excellent resource for developing new utility workers. Through his work on the council, he helps develop curriculum and programming useful for training students in commercial and industrial electrical applications. The school largely trains high schoolers but attracts some older students, as well. He was honored to be asked to help judge SkillsUSA’s West Virginia competition, and said, “This was a chance for the best of the best from my state to compete for a chance to travel to Atlanta in June for the national SkillsUSA contest.” 

Two of the students working on their industrial motor control projects.

On the first day of the competition, students started with a safety briefing, followed by a 6-hour timed event on industrial motor control. They were given a project description, layout drawing, and schematic for a three-phase 120/208V motor circuit with forward, reverse, stop buttons and limit switches.  

The next day’s test was a residential wiring project in which students had four hours to wire a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) with a branch duplex receptacle, a pair of three-way switches and a keyless light fixture. The catch was that all receptacles had to trip with the GFCI but the light had to remain on.  

Whitehair says the SkillsUSA program is an example of the great things that can be accomplished when education, industry, and labor work together. He and Bodkins were able to participate thanks to Local 304 and Monongahela Power’s volunteer paid time off program, which allows employees time off to engage in meaningful activities in their communities. Parent company First Energy covered their pay for the two days of judging and Local 304 paid for expenses and materials.