Faculty Appreciation Month – Joe Weidenaar

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Joe, 38, was born in Minnesota, but grew up in Hilliard, Florida, from the age of eight. Joe is an Electrical Instructor at Tulsa Welding School, Jacksonville campus.  Joe has been with the school for eight months.

Thanks for your time, Joe; how long have you been an electrician?

17 years. I was 22 when I first started in the field in September 2006; I began my apprenticeship in April 2007. I actually got hurt on the job in 2009; I couldn’t drive or go to school for a year so that set me back a year or so. But I completed my five-year apprenticeship and graduated as a Journeyman Electrician in May 2013. From that point on I’ve mostly been a foreman, I ran jobs. I also taught the apprenticeship program that I graduated from for five years. I taught the first-year classroom curriculum there.

Explain how an electrical apprenticeship works. Is it not just carrying tools, helping, and watching?

An electrical apprenticeship works like this; you work in the field during the day alongside Journeymen electricians, you’re doing electrical work with them…on the job training (OJT). You also attend classes at night. The classes were nine months out of the year on my program, for five years. So, you’d go as a first-year and then a second, third, fourth, fifth year apprentice. All the while you’re working, you’re doing OJT as well as having classroom instruction. You graduate as a Journeyman Electrician. It’s an accredited Florida apprenticeship program. I taught the classroom instruction side to first-year apprentices at night. I also worked during the day as a foreman. As a Journeyman, I’d also have apprentices of my own in the field.

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Is that program particular to Florida, or is it nationwide?

So, the apprenticeship program that I taught and attended is a nationwide program.

If you go to TWS, do you have go through an apprenticeship program as well?

No, you don’t have to go through an apprenticeship program. You don’t have to go through any more formal schooling if you don’t want to. It’s an option. Becoming a Journeyman is 100% about time. You need four years in the trade which equals about 8,000 hours. Pretty much, state to state, that’s the requirement to be able to take your Journeyman Electrician exam.

We have three programs that involve different levels of electrical classes. We have our EA, EMT, and RT programs. One of the advantages of doing, let’s say, the EMT program, is that you get instruction in electrical, solar, refrigeration, and HVAC. A lot of apprenticeship programs just focus solely on one trade.joe weidenaar

If you choose to do an apprenticeship program after going through TWS, one of the advantages is that most apprenticeship programs will let you test out. You could maybe test to their second year, so you could potentially skip the first and second year, at least the first year of their program. As a TWS graduate, you are also already starting out with employable skills that a lot of other people might not have. They’re going in with zero experience, while you will have the added bonus of that first year+ level of training. Tulsa grads are starting out knowing things that others will not, without having set foot on an electrical site.

What did you do for those few years before getting into electrical at 22?

I actually started working when I was 15. I started working in fast food restaurants and I took a management role at 16. I did that until I was 22, when I decided that it was no longer a career path that suited me. I attempted college at one point. I did one semester and realized that going to a regular four-year college or community college, sitting in class for eight hours a day was not the way that I learned best. I wanted something where I could work with my hands, I used to take everything apart as a kid together just to see how it worked. I wanted something where I could move around to see and do different things. My dad was a carpenter and then a truck driver, so working with my hands was always something I wanted.

A lot of TWS students will relate to that. As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

Actually, I wanted to be an architect. But the more I realized that it involved a lot of sitting at a desk and drawing pictures, I decided it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. But when I’m in the field, I really get to see a lot of it. I’m a commercial/industrial electrician by trade, so I’ve done a lot of new construction. I get to see a project start from the beginning and work all the way to the end. You start with nothing, and then you get to flip the switch, and everything works because of you. You get to be a big part of that. So being able to see that part of it really thrills me more than just drawing pictures of a building.

After teaching the apprenticeship, what made you decide to come and teach at Tulsa?

I love being in the field. I was injured on the job in 2009, so being in the field is a little harder physically for me now. Being in a classroom is a way I can still be involved in something I love, without putting as much strain on my body. But teaching was never actually something that I thought I would do, or that I planned to do. When I first started teaching the apprenticeship program, I fell in love with it. But coming here to Tulsa wasn’t actually a planned thing. I was moving and I sold a piece of furniture to someone who happened to be a student at the welding campus in Jacksonville. We were talking about our backgrounds, and he told me that TWS was looking for full-time electrical instructors. It was just really good timing; I was at a point in my life where I decided that maybe I should pursue teaching full-time. I knew I enjoyed it, and it’s a way that I can give back. I love this trade; I want to have a hand in creating our next generation of Journeymen wiremen. So, it wasn’t something I planned, but as soon as the opportunity arose, I knew I wanted to do it. And I’m really thankful that it has worked out for me.

What do you enjoy most about teaching at Tulsa Welding School?

I absolutely love it when I see recognition click on a student’s face, when something that I’m teaching finally makes sense and it all falls into place. I see them connecting those dots, and their interest grows because now it’s making sense. That’s what makes me happy at the end of the day. I love watching them learn and seeing the opportunities that can open up to them, and I enjoy guiding them down this path. When I see that they’ve got that passion for the work, that same passion that I have, that really just makes me excited to get up and go to work every day.

So, tell us about your home life, your family, Joe.

I’ve been with my wife Holly for 20 years; we have a daughter who will be 20 in June. We got started young!

Tell us something most people don’t know about you?

I used to be a tattoo artist! I have close to 20 tattoos myself.

If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be, and why?

To be completely honest, Nikola Tesla. Tesla really solidified my love for the trade. I actually got in trouble at my apprenticeship program and had to write an essay because I missed too much time. I had to write an essay and read it in front of the class. The subject I was given was Nikola Tesla. I didn’t really know a lot about him, but I ended up writing a 9,000-word essay, instead of a 3,000-word essay because I just got so into it when I realized all the things that he did. It was amazing. He was well before his time.

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new students who are just starting?

Put the work in, put the effort in, take it seriously. This trade can offer so many opportunities, any kind of trade honestly. I’m partial to the electrical trade obviously, but the trades, period, can open up doors for you. Doors that you never thought you’d have an opportunity to go through. So put the work in, put the effort in, and keep at it. This is your career; if you don’t put the effort in now, you’re not going to get the results you want out of it in the future. This trade can take you anywhere. Once you have these skills, you’re set for life. You’ll never have to worry about working again. You’ll always have a job if you have the right attitude. There’s just so many different things that you can do, but you have to put the effort in now.

What did you enjoy most when out in the field?

I prefer commercial/industrial work. With residential, you do basically the same thing all the time, just in different houses. Whether it’s new construction or it’s remodel work, you’re in an attic. I don’t like being in attics. Working commercial or industrial, you get to see all kinds of sites. I’ve worked nuclear power plants, hospitals, commercial buildings, retail spaces, substations, all kinds of sites. There’s just more variety. There’s larger equipment, higher voltages, there’s more to do, more to know, more to learn.

You’re on your way to work, and you get a call that campus is closed. What are you going to do?

I’m probably going to turn round, go home, and crawl back into bed with my wife for a while, take a nap! Sleep is hard to come by. But honestly, I’d just hang out with my wife. Hang out by the pool if it’s nice and warm outside or take the dog for a walk down by the water. I spend a lot of time doing a lot of things, so doing nothing would be a perk.

Do you have a favorite tool, something sentimental…and/or practical?

The thing that I was trained to have on me at all times, from the time I started in the trade, was a notebook and a pencil or pen. That’s what I’ve told every apprentice that I’ve ever had because I don’t want to repeat myself when I ask you to go get things, or if I need measurements written down. A notebook is the most important thing you can have on you. But for a sentimental tool, I can say that I have only owned two pairs of lineman’s pliers in 17 years! The first pair my dad blew up, he found a live wire rather than wait for me to shut off the breaker. He’s passed now, so I keep them for sentimental reasons. The second pair I got when I graduated from my apprentice program.

If you were to tell someone “Thank You” for making you who you are today, who would it be & why?

I think as far as the trade goes it would have to be my first Journeyman, Carlos Nunez. He didn’t treat me as a green apprentice. He trained me from the get-go like I would be a foreman one day. I truly believe that he helped me become a really good foreman, as well as a good instructor.