Ambitious and hardworking, Nelson enjoys learning new things while getting his job done well and safely. He is easy to work with and finds work fun. He explains why, as a family man, his plans to become an electrician took a while longer, and how he finally got his plan ‘done’.
I attended a technical high school, where I took electrical classes during my freshman year all the way through my senior year. I earned a Residential Wiring Certificate. I enjoyed electrical work, but when I became a father, my plans changed. I went to work in non-electrical jobs to support my family.
Military training opened up my mind and helped me see things differently. Before the military, when it came to getting something done, I would try it once, and then if I failed, I failed—I would just give up. After being in the military, I learned that one way or another, you have to figure it out and get the job done.
After leaving the military, I began searching on the internet for trade schools around where I live in Holyoke, MA. A few schools came up, but they didn’t have very good reviews, especially from other veterans. Searching further from home, I came across MTTI. All of the reviews were great, including all of the feedback from other veterans.
It was worth driving an hour-and-a-half every day to go to school. The first weeks of the program felt like a refresher, because I knew some of the basic info. But once we got further into the curriculum, I was being exposed to things I hadn’t learned in high school. Coming to MTTI, I thought I knew a lot about electricity; once in the program, I realized how little I knew.
It didn’t matter what we were learning or doing on a given day; I was excited and pumped to do it. Learning electrical theory and skills wasn’t difficult—it challenged me, and I liked that. School went smoothly for me all the way through. I had wanted to do this for so long; now that I actually had the chance, I wasn’t going to let the opportunity go by. I gave it my all.
The instructors did a good job of breaking things down. Everything they taught went hand-in-hand, which made it easier for me to learn. Everything came together at the end and it all made sense. Now that I am working in the field, I can see that the tools we used, and the set-up of the commercial and residential shops in which we learned hands-on, were just the way things actually are on the job. I know they are continuing to add more modules in the shops, for example, a second floor of a ‘house’. That will be even better, because that is exactly what you are going to encounter in the field.
I would go to one of my teachers and ask him how to do something; he would explain his way of doing it. Then I’d ask another instructor, and he would show me a different way to do that. Electricians will all get from point A to point B, but they do it in different ways. That’s what I wanted—to get a more complete picture by having each person’s perspective about how to get the job done.
Mike and Ian would come around in the shop and randomly ask us questions. One of them would show you a connector or a locknut and ask, “What is this?” You would tell them what it is, but if you got it wrong, they would give you the right answer. I loved it when the Program Supervisor Pat Church was around. You could be focused on what you were doing in the shop. He would take you aside and ask you 10 different questions about 10 different things. He makes you use your mind and think, which was fun for me.
They weren’t just reading from the text book to us; they would give us feedback from their own experiences as electricians. They would say, “This is how I handled this situation. I did this, and this is what I used to get it done.” They showed us all of the equipment—taught us all the trades names, the real names and the nicknames of everything, from screws to materials to connectors. If something has three names, they are going to tell you all of the names for it, so you won’t feel lost once you are in the field.
For example, one of my instructors explained how to use a pancake box. It’s a small lighting fixture box that you use in very specific situations. I’ve only used it once since I’ve been working. Why bring it up if it is not going to be used often? At MTTI, they go out of their way to tell you what it is, because they want you to feel ready for anything.
Towards the end of the program, I was having trouble finding an internship and employment near the school. The employers I would speak to were afraid that my hour-and-a-half drive from home was too far. I felt pressured by having only 3 weeks until classes ended. Almost all of my classmates had a place to go for internship—most of them were already hired. Shawn, the Career Services Specialist told me he would do a separate search just for me. He found AK Electric in Palmer, MA, closer to where I live.
Located further from the school, they didn’t know MTTI as well as the employers who had interned or apprenticed MTTI students. AK knew straight off the bat that I had no field experience—that was the first question they asked me. I answered honestly that I had no field experience, but that I was completing the Residential and Commercial Electrician program at MTTI. I explained that hours in the program fulfilled the educational hours needed to take the Massachusetts Electrical Journeyman licensing exam.
I think it was my confidence about what I had learned at school that got me the job. The owner asked, “Do you know how to work with MC (metal-clad) cable for commercial applications? Fire alarm systems? Romex electrical wire? Do you know how to do services?” I told them, ‘Yes, I can do this; yes, I can do that”. The owner said that he had hired people before who had gone to school. “They told me they could do all these things and then, once they were on the job, they didn’t know a thing.” I responded, “I’m not going to lie to you. I’m looking for long-term employment. This is what I can do, this is what I have been taught. I’m pretty good.”
As my internship began, I was already a paid employee. I got a raise a week later. My boss said, “Now that I know where you are at, this is what you deserve—he gave me a $2/hour raise. I felt great. Getting a raise let me know that I was doing a good job.
He’s great—I learn a lot from him. We go from job to job. My first day we were working at a group of units, roughing in two levels in one of the condos. I was doing a little bit of everything: putting up recessed can lighting; installing the main panel in the basement; doing the home runs to the panel; running coaxial cable and T-STAT (low voltage) cable to the thermostat.
Everything we do on the job I have done at school—just not on such a large scale. On the second day, we did an underground service. We had spoken about that at school, so I was familiar with the parts and what has to be done. All of the practice in naming parts and tools during the program helps me in the field when my boss asks me to go to the truck and get this and that, or sends me to a supply house and says “We need to get two of these and two of those.” Because of what I learned at school I know exactly what he is talking about.
I like the thrill of putting things together, and how, when you turn the power on, things come on—things work. Electrical work challenges me to brainstorm and figure out new ways to do things. You can do a service for a house, but every time you do it, it’s different. Because the house or the structure is different, you have to figure out ways to get your power from A to B. Half the time I feel like I am not working—just having a good time.
My wife and I have I have been together for going on 12 years; we have two daughters, 4 and 10. She was in the shop with me when I taking electrical in high school. She has always told me, “I know you want to be an electrician—go for it!” I’m already all set with the schooling. I just have to get the 4,000 working hours and I can go for my license; it takes about 3 years or so. Electrical work pays well. After I am a licensed Journeyman, the pay goes up—a lot.
Don’t think about it twice; it’s the way to go. You always hear bad stories about trade schools–that they take your money or they don’t help you get a job. MTTI over-prepares you so that you can be successful in a trade or technical career. They help you get a job. MTTI is the real deal.
Top Left: Nelson in MTTI’s Residential and Commercial Electrician Shop
Right: Nelson on the job at AK Electric working on a panel (photo sent by Nelson)
Left: Nelson on the job at AK Electric (photo sent by Nelson)
Bottom: Nelson with his classmates and Instructor, Ian (left) and Shop Skills Instructor, Keith (right) at MTTI in East Providence, RI