Staff Spotlight: Electrical Training Director John Salyer

We love highlighting the outstanding members of our team. This month, we are spotlighting Training Director John Salyer.

What is your current role with IBEW?

I'm the Training Director for the Ann Arbor Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Training Center (AAEJATC). This means I'm responsible for the training of all of our apprentices in our commercial/industrial, residential and low voltage/voice/data/video programs. Additionally, I’m responsible for the continuing training of the journeymen to keep their skills up to date.


How is the union different from non-union in terms of training?

Well first off, we train! We are actually independent of the union. NECA (National Electrical Contractors Association) and IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) are our parent organizations, but we're an independent apprenticeship program registered with the Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeships. This means every five years they come in and audit our program to make sure that we are actually doing everything that we say we're going to do for the apprentices. Our completion rate is above 95 percent, which means that more than nine out of 10 apprentices complete the program and become journeymen in the field. According to the last figures I saw, only about 25 percent of non-union apprentices complete the program.


How long have you been with IBEW, and what was your path to your current role?

I've been in the IBEW for 27 years, and served as president of local for six of those. As far as getting here, I worked for a NECA company, Utilities Instrumentation Service, for 13 years where I worked on generation distribution systems up to 350,000 volts. Working for UIS, I was constantly taking advantage of educational opportunities to learn all I could about our industry. When there was an opening for Training Director, I was approached by my instructor and Training Director, Bob Kosky, and he convinced me to apply for the position. I did, and I've been here for 10 years now.


What initially led to your career in the industry?

I was building houses with my brother, and I was also the building inspector for the small township that I live in. The electrical inspector was an IBEW member who convinced me to apply for the program back in 1994.


What attracted you to the position?

Building, working with my hands and the vastness of our industry. From residential to commercial to generation distribution -- all the different aspects of the trade are challenging. I'm one of those people who likes to be challenged, not one who is okay with getting something down and repeating the same process over and over. I like troubleshooting and the different aspects of the trade that are available.


What does your typical day look like?

Well, there's really no such thing as a typical day. If I have any apprentices off, I'm calling contractors trying to find them work, either locally here or in neighboring jurisdictions. I'm working with my contractors trying to make sure that I have enough manpower in the pipeline so that their needs are met. I’m working with training partners to make sure I have the most up-to-date tools and materials so that we can train on what is coming, and make sure that we're right on the cutting edge. I’m making sure we have more opportunities for journeymen as well as apprentices. Also, I'm contacting schools, women and under-served populations to let them know about apprenticeships and that there are opportunities for them. Then I get a phone call about an issue that comes up that I have to deal with, and all the other stuff kind of goes on the back burner.


What does being a part of the training center, IBEW, NECA and the entire organization mean to you?

It's all about teamwork. In order to get the job done, on time, on budget, correctly and safely, we each have to do our part. This includes the contractor, general foreman, foreman, journeymen, apprentices, shop driver and supply house. Everybody has to work in tandem if we're going to get the job done.


What do you wish people knew about the IBEW and NECA?

How professional and customer oriented we are, and that we work together as a team. I know sometimes when people hear “union'' they think that means “conflict,” but we are very centered on customer service and making sure that the customers’ requirements are met, and met safely. I can't emphasize safety enough, both for our workers and for the end user.


Why should customers choose a NECA electrical contractor?

The safety aspect and knowing that their budget will be respected. There won’t be overruns, the job will be done on time or better. The professionalism of the workforce and the training the workforce has gone through so they can be confident everything is going to be done correctly, and that there's not going to be an issue after the job is finished.


Who have been your strongest influences in life?

In my work life, I have three. My first was Bob Kosky, who I mentioned earlier. He was my instructor and training director when I was in the apprenticeship. Second is Ed Allen, who was my second year journeyman. He took the extra time to really teach me how controls work and how to troubleshoot electrical problems. Finally, Dave Wheeler, who owned Utilities Instrumentation Service. He taught me a lot about generation, protective relays and high voltage systems.


What are you most proud of accomplishing professionally, personally or both?

Personally, my marriage of 39 years and my wife, Tammy, who raised two wonderful children. We now have two wonderful grandsons. I also appreciate her supporting me during all the extra time I've put in for the IBEW. Professionally, serving as president of the local for six years and getting to represent the members and tell our story to people such as politicians in D.C., at our IBEW International convention and in schools in order to let people know about the IBEW.


Do you have a favorite memory, something that really stands out from your work?

I tell my apprentices about Ed Allen and when I was a second year apprentice. We were troubleshooting a rooftop unit and he said, “Well, think about the drawings you're doing in school.” We hadn't actually started on those control drawings yet, so he took the time to go down to the service van and get the drawings from when he was an apprentice. He sat on a five-gallon bucket and went through that whole circuit and how to troubleshoot. I try to be as generous with what I've learned as he was with me.


Describe the organization — IBEW, NECA and AAEJATC — in five words or less.

Skills, knowledge, professionalism, safety and family.