For Elmore County Technical Center electrical instructor Jason Harris, his primary goals are to give his students information they can use to begin a career in the electrical trade and educate them about the practical knowledge of electricity when they become homeowners.
“I tell everybody who comes through here, when you leave after one year in the program you’ll have some useful knowledge,” Harris said.
“Sometimes contractors may try to take advantage of customers. It helps the students understand the things they need to look for if something is wrong at their home. If a plug goes out, they should know how to go through and figure out the problem and about how much it should cost to fix something like that.”
According to Harris, the purpose of the tech center is to help students learn about a trade or profession they are interested in then over the course of the year determine if that is a pathway they want to pursue.
Students entering the tech school their sophomore year have the chance to pursue up to three different career pathways or focus on one career pathway all three years.
“Once they graduate, they will have to pay for these educational opportunities we offer every Elmore County student for free,” Harris said.
Harris’ journey to his teaching career at the tech center began when he was young — extremely young.
“My dad was an electrician,” Harris said. “My dad had me crawling under houses pulling wire when I was 3 years old.”
He worked in the electrical trade all the way through high school. By the time college rolled around, he had a camera in his hand and ended up being the photographer for former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman after he graduated college. Following his tenure with Siegelman, Harris went back to his skilled trade.
“I got back to electrical work and my dad was offered a teaching job with Calhoun County’s technical center,” he said. “It was the first time I saw my dad really happy with his job.”
Eventually, Harris was hired as Elmore County Technical Center’s electrical instructor in 2012.
“My dad and I teach the same curriculum today,” he said. “My dad is 74 and he is still teaching. That has really kept our relationship close.”
Harris said his students are essentially in an electrical apprenticeship program.
The program offers National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) training curriculum and includes three courses.
The core class covers hand tools, safety and incorporates soft skills lessons like how to interview for a job and how to succeed in the workplace.
The second-year class is NCCER 1. It covers house wiring and commercial wiring. The third-year class is NCCER 2. In this class, students start learning about motor controls, three-phase power which is found in commercial set ups and more advanced instruction.
“I have a lot of students who help friends and neighbors,” Harris said. “Sometimes they will get halfway through it and I’ll get that phone call at 9 p.m. at night. I’ll always go out and help the kids finish the job.”
Several students are looking at the electrical program to see if it is something that is of interest to pursue in the future. For example, Elmore County High School junior Jack Butler is exploring electrical classes for the first time.
“I heard that electricians make good livings right now,” Butler said. “There is a need for electricians. I thought I would try it out and see if I like it. This is my first year at tech school. I am thinking about going to (Central Alabama Community College in Alexander City) to get a trade in something.”
According to recent Bureau of Labor statistics, electricians earn a median paycheck of $55,190 per year, and this job sector is expected to grow 10% —faster than the average of all job sectors — from 2018 to 2028.
Wetumpka High School senior Alana Culver decided to get out of the classroom and try something new.
“I like it because we can do hands-on stuff,” she said. “This is my first year in trade school. We do a lot more hands-on stuff which I like.”
No matter which way students progress with their studies, the electrical courses taught by Harris certainly have a practical application when these students become homeowners.