According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the electrician trade is growing, with almost 700,000 electricians in the U.S., up 10% since 2016. Jeremy Leavitt is one of those 700,000 electricians, and after speaking with him recently we came away thinking the future of the trade is in very good hands.
Some people seem like they were born into the trade from the earliest of ages, with an interest around all things “electricity.” But sometimes their inspiration comes from a regular event, like an uncle stopping by the house.
“I was seven years old when my uncle came for a visit and started talking about his job as an electrician working on the George Washington Bridge. He started working on the bridge when he was 18, and by the time he was 23, he was promoted to foreman.”
“I remember how cool and important it sounded. I remember him explaining that he landed a job that was one in a million, and that it gave him the trade and the opportunity to work anywhere in the country he wanted. I think that’s when I decided I wanted to be an electrician.”
Trade school as launching pad
When you speak with Jeremy, the first thing you notice is his humble nature. Then you’re struck by his sense of maturity and perspective on this trade. So, it’s a surprise when he tells you he’s only 23 years old.
“Yeah, I’m the same age as my uncle was when he made foreman, and I’ve got a little way to go before I get there,” he admitted with understated humor.
We asked Jeremy about the path that led him where he is today, and he recounted career planning that started back in high school.
“I was only 16 when they offered me the chance to go to trade school, and essentially work and learn my way in the trade while finishing high school. I took it, and after high school I started working right away.”
It proved to be a smart move for a young man who quickly launched an accelerated electrician’s career.
From residential to industrial
“Right out of trade school, I landed a job as a maintenance electrician,” Jeremy recounted, “working in mostly residential settings. Nothing like the intensity of the industrial environment I work in today. Electricity is electricity, but in a residential environment you learn pretty quickly that codes vary a lot, so there’s a lot to learn.”
“I worked on ‘step downs,’ transformers or converters that take 220 volts and step it down to the more typical household voltage of 110. It was a good place to learn the basics. One of the things I learned early on was the simple but important difference between the type of electrical casing used in residential — called Romex — and the type required in industrial environment, steel conduit. Once you move up to the type of intense industrial settings I work in now, you realize why these types of differences matter – a lot.”
Today Jeremy works in a large industrial facility manufacturing high grade coke fuel.
“The facility takes raw coal down to a fine dust, and then bakes it for exactly 17 hours and three minutes. What that produces is a very special type of very hot coke, which is eventually used to make industrial metals.”
“It’s quite a difference. Things can go wrong quickly. In a workplace where 50 milliamps across your chest can kill in an instant, you learn quickly to stay very focused. That’s the key.”
Taking danger out of the equation
When we asked Jeremy to describe the typical workday for an electrician working in a coke factory, he started with the complex dress code.
“It’s a facility that has at its core furnaces that reach up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, so let’s just say there are systems and processes in place that make safety more important than the job itself. We start each shift in 100% cotton underwear and build on that. First, there’s the fire-resistant shirt, pants and jacket. Then, it’s the heavy-duty metatarsal boots and the safety glasses. Finally, it’s all topped off with the hardhat we wear everywhere and all the time.”
The buddy system
According to Jeremy, safety first becomes truly a way of working and is made all the more real by using the buddy system.
“Each of us electricians is paired with a millwright, and we don’t go anywhere without each other. Each shift we all start off with a meeting to go over what the jobs are for the day — sometimes ranging from changing light bulbs to investigating and fixing seized electrical motors. And each shift starts with a safety check, a critical part of which is being sure each other’s C02 monitors and respirators are working.
“At my company they literally call each day a ‘safety day,’ just so there’s no mistaking what’s the most important job every day. With your buddy, each team is 200% accountable and this is real. I could be squatting there, deeply involved in repairing a piece of machinery, and a locomotive could be bearing down on me from behind. Your buddy turns into your lifesaver very quickly in a workplace like ours.”
Electrician as job maker
Jeremy talked about the unexpected satisfaction he gets each day working in such an intense industrial manufacturing environment.
“We’re also making a special type of light oil and tar. All these energy products we produce here become key ingredients in smelting steel.”
Jeremy paused, and told us with a sense of pride, “But, there’s something else we make here — jobs. All of these machines we help keep running here make more jobs for more people in parts of the country that can really use them. That’s not a bad way to make a living as an electrician.”
Wise before his age
It’s impossible to speak with someone like Jeremy without sensing how much wisdom he seems to have acquired at such a youthful age. We asked him what advice he would offer the young tradesperson who’s just starting out today and considering an electrician’s career.
“I’d say to them something one of the older guys at my job told me recently. He’s been doing this job for over 40 years, and he said something I won’t soon forget — he told me, ‘every day, and I mean every day, I learn something new.’”
Jeremy talked about his personal experience: “It’s tough to beat the opportunity I had, to come out of high school and trade school, become a journeyman and go through my apprenticeship. You’re getting paid to learn a trade, a trade you can make a decent living with for the rest of your life. Sometimes it seems everyone wants to be a doctor or a lawyer, but I’ll tell you, the lines for applying for skilled trades jobs like electricians are getting shorter and shorter.”
What can we do for you?
As our conversation wound to a close, Jeremy wanted to add one thing:
“I wanted to thank you, by the way. When I got out of trade school, and a friend told me I should talk to Aerotek about possibly finding a job, I did. I’ll never forget it because I was so struck by how the Aerotek guys were always asking what I wanted, what they could do for me. Honestly, that was refreshing.”
It was as gratifying as it was humbling, talking with Jeremy about his trade and his views on work. He was truly inspiring to us. If his words inspire you too, we’d love to help connect you to your next opportunity in whatever trade or industry you work in.