December 8, 2021
By Blake Marchand
Watt’s the Word is a recently launched Electrical Industry Podcast hosted by Zack Hartle and Jason Cox, who are Electricians and Electrical Trade Instructors at SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology).
Cox is a Calgary based Alberta Master Electrician; he’s been an instructor for the past 15-years with a Master of Education, specializing in adult education. He also gets on the tools volunteering every year for the Calgary Folk Festival electrical crew.
“I’m interested in education obviously, and we’re hoping to connect our industry, its such a large vast industry,” he said about the podcast.
Hartle started young in the trades. At 16 he went into the Registered Apprenticeship Program. He worked in the trade for 9-years before taking a teaching job with SAIT. He was also involved with the Skills Canada Competitions and ended up making it to Germany where he competed at the World Skills Competition.
“There’s a couple different trade entry options in Alberta,’ noted Hartle with respect to programs at SAIT, “there’s the pre-employment, where potential apprentices come before they hit the jobsite, it’s a little more hands on. The program Jason and I teach in is the electrician apprenticeship program, so apprentices they’ve been in the field on the tools and they’re just coming to learn the theory and the code.”
With the podcast they wanted to play their part in connecting the industry, “I listen to a lot of podcasts,” Hartle said, “I enjoy them and you can get a lot of different trinkets of information from a lot of different places, there’s a few American based podcasts that talk about the code and the industry down there – but our industry is so different in Canada and there’s not enough information out there.”
“Teaching everyday to the apprentices we cover a lot of technical information, a lot of these people want to start a business, or they want to become an estimator, or a project manager,” said Hartle, “So, we just wanted to start something that’s 40 minutes, every couple weeks, just giving some more information on what the industry is all about.”
“The idea is to just have people on who can talk about their experience in the trade and talk about something in the industry that people might not know about.”
As David Myers notes in their inaugural podcast, “The correlation between public safety and electrical work is always something I’ve been very passion about. When we get something wrong, we’re putting the public is at risk. So, the requirement to do things right is so obviously apparent in electrical, and I’ve learned a lot from that type of thinking.” Which really emphasizes, beyond the obvious, why its so important to have these discussions and create forums and avenues where questions can be asked. As they note, the industry is so vast there are always questions to be answered and given the importance of safety and quality, its imperative that electricians know their stuff.
The other aspect to the broad scope of the electrical trade, is that there is plenty of opportunity. But if you don’t have insight into where the trade can take you, you can’t pursue it. And as Cox says, there’s still lots to learn beyond the technical aspects.
In terms of topics for their podcast: they’ve covered the code and changes to the new edition with Myers in their first episode, they talked electric shock and arc flash safety with John Knoll, solar with Nathan Ward, and have talked with Skills Canada alumni Chelsea Dyck, as well as covering the IBEW with Scott Crichton. They’ve also interviewed each other to share more insight into their respective journeys in the trades. Their latest episode looks at the challenges of COVID with Neil Moffat of Canem Systems.
Upcoming episodes include interviews with Co-CEO’s of Virtuoso Energy and Adam Ghani Chief Electrical Inspector at the city of Calgary.
Beyond that they’d like to start some discussions with wholesalers to provide insight for electricians and contractors on efficient transactions, promote women in the trades, as well as a miniseries on being a small business owner. They’d also like to touch on the insurance/WCB (Workers Compensation Board of Alberta) side of things, which would be required to start a business, “Of course, we’re not lawyers giving advice, but to plant that seed and give people stuff to think about,” noted Hartle.
“We’re going to speak with the Electrical Contractors Association of Alberta, we hope. I didn’t even know about them until I had to, people don’t know that these huge contractor associations exists and there’s so many resources for apprentices and journeyman,” he added.
Elaborating on topics they’d like to explore, Cox said, “We have some potential changes to our apprenticeship in Alberta, so we’re just starting to scratch the surface to see what those changes at the provincial level are going to do to our trade and all trades.”
“I know they’re looking at an apprenticeship model that encompasses more occupations than the typical construction trades, following the European model,” he said, adding Watt’s the Word’s focus will obviously be on the electrical trade and they currently don’t expect any drastic changes when it comes to how the system operates for electrician apprentices.
I asked Cox and Hartle about demand for apprentices in Alberta. For first and second year apprentices, they said the demand is there, but with where the economy is at right now, there is job shortages rather than shortages of electricians. And that can make it tough on fourth year apprentices and journeymen.
“We’re journeymen heavy, unfortunately right now,” said Hartle, “there’s some companies who don’t have proper ratios. So, they have too many first and second years and not enough journeymen doing the appropriate training and that’s one of the messages we’re trying to get across, is keeping the trade strong and the integrity of the trade,” he said, adding that its important to reinforce why regulations (like having proper apprentice/journeymen ratios) are in place and what the purposes are.
“It really erodes everything, because you’ll have companies that are trying to do the right thing and trying to keep everything above board, and there’s going to be other companies who are just completely taking advantage of the system,” and that leads to an unfair competitive advantage, “People doing it right can’t compete with the people doing it wrong.”
A big challenge is that, previously, the oil industry was very strong and provided a lot of work for electricians. As some of that work starts to dry up, it has a ripple effect for the contractors making a living in that industry. I asked Cox and Hartle for their opinion on how the industry can move past oil and bring the demand back up for electricians, “Diversification is the word that gets thrown around,” Hartle said, “and there’s work that can be done there.”
But when demand for work drops as it has in Alberta oil industry, the reality is, “it takes people a while to understand that maybe there won’t be that much work again in that same facet of the industry.” Which again emphasizes the importance of continuing education throughout your career to diversify your skill set and branch out into other areas, particularly as the industry changes and evolves.
Hartle said that as the industry progresses toward newer technologies like solar, EV charging stations and new infrastructure requirements, there will be opportunity.
The Watt’s the Word Podcast can be found on all the major podcast platforms (Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, etc…). Zack and Jason are eager to hear from the electrical industry about topics they would like discussed on future episodes of the show.
Facebook or Instagram @wattsthewordpodcast