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Dropping Gems for the DCAA Class of 2019

By Arnesa A. Howell

When Jerry Jeffries stood before the D.C. Apprenticeship Academy’s Class of 2019 as keynote speaker, he emphasized the “dollars and cents” of the electrical industry — an electrician’s earnings are among the highest in skilled trades. Simply put, he said, “Electricians can make bank!”

The pay scale ranges from $27 per hour to $51 per hour for technicians with UL certification in motor control and journeyman’s licenses,” according to Jeffries, a supervisor who runs the motor control shop for Allied Power and Control, referencing the employees that work under his supervision.

Jeffries speaks from experience.

Rewind some 30 years, and he easily remembers his struggles to become an electrical apprentice. When starting out in the field straight out of high school, Jeffries made only $18,000 a year. But hard work, discipline and an inner drive to succeed steadily increased his salary. Backed by special certification in product safety and testing, he is now a UL-certified motor control technician earning six-figures. His go-getter mentality is what Jeffries sought to instill in the latest graduates.

“Just don’t stop when you get a license,” Jeffries told the class, whose members can go on to gain journeyman licenses in the District. “You have to take some chances.”

A Stepping Stone
It’s been a four-year journey for those given the opportunity by their employers to enroll in the apprenticeship program. And Jeffries noted that those who stayed the course willingly made life-changing sacrifices — missing family dinners, working long hours and staying up for late-night homework sessions before waking early the next morning. “There were those who started this journey with you but are not standing beside you today,” he said. “You that are here today are here because you stuck it out.”

While praising the group for its accomplishments, Jeffries also urged each graduate to get ready to “enter a new race.” He encouraged them to continue educating themselves and to pursue specialty training that can open additional doorways of opportunity. “Become master electricians, business owners or whatever you dream of,” he said. “Make a plan to accomplish your goals and remember you can’t climb the ladder to success with your hands in your pockets.”

He also emphasized the importance of black men and men of color being “twice as diligent” to gain a foothold in this industry. Programs like the Apprenticeship Academy help in that endeavor, he noted.

Jeffries explained that while the money isn’t always there in the beginning, “if you’re good at what you do, you will get there.” In the meantime, he shared these parting tips for the graduates to live by: “Trust yourself. Don’t be afraid to fail. Ignore the haters. Work hard as hell,” and finally, “Always give back.”