Safety has always been a priority for Portland’s construction industry, but COVID-19 caught the industry – and the world – by surprise. It was only one year ago our training center had to close and the 2020 spring quarter canceled to comply with executive orders. Despite the ongoing safety and health challenges, the NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center completed a successful training year for more than 1,000 apprentices.
Initially, there were no safety protocols issued for the construction industry. It was the leadership from the Oregon COVID-19 Construction Task Force that led the charge to cultivate best practices. Contractors from different job sites invited us to audit best practices to identify how to transfer the protocols to other sites. Today, those same protocols are posted on the OHSU website to help guide contractors across the state.
With safety protocols in place, it was easy to create a reopening plan for the center. The training center’s east-end remodel was completed with three larger classrooms and a hands-on lab area. The new classroom size and safety protocols made it possible for apprentices to return in-person for the summer quarter. Additional safety procedures include a pre-entry survey, enhanced cleaning and sanitation efforts, and mandatory mask use. We also installed barriers in the lab to help maintain the six-foot distance requirement and required one-way traffic in and out of classrooms. When the center reopened, another 500 apprentices returned to classes.
We also dedicated time to educate our staff and instructors on the new safety procedures, so they felt safe as well. The new guidelines allowed teaching and training to continue with little-to-no interference, and in-person learning returned by the summer quarter.
Even with the lessons learned from the summer term, fall proved more difficult with case counts going up across the state. We saw this trend impact some of our apprentices as exposure rates increased. The training program requires class attendance one day a week for 11 weeks, and on-the-job training with contractors four days a week. Because of this, missing more than two weeks makes it difficult to keep up. Despite several having to quarantine, 70% of those apprentices were able to keep up with peers in class.
We are now approaching the end of our quarter with 500 apprentices who have succeeded. Our staff and students have risen above and beyond ensuring that training continues. The heightened focus on health and safety has opened a conversation around industry sanitation standards, and safety protocols continue to be a top priority for the NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center and contractors across the industry.
For more information on steps NECA/IBEW 48 is taking to keep its workforce safe, visit the website at www.necaibew48.com/covid-19-safety.