After studying at Eastern Illinois University and transferring to Southeast Missouri State University to complete a bachelor of science in Business Administration, as well as spending nearly a decade in the mortgage loan processing industry, Erin Virgin chose another career path. “I was ready for a change. I wanted to work with my hands. I felt that electricity would be an interesting and challenging career,” said Erin.
Erin is a third-year electrician apprentice at the Electrical Training Alliance of Jacksonville (ETA). This apprenticeship program offers work-based learning on site with veteran electricians as well as trade-related classroom and online learning. The program allows students to earn while they learn about the craft--all without incurring any debt.
Electrical professionals are employed in many capacities such as telephone and computer infrastructure, audio-visual installation, and electrical facility maintenance. According to etajax.org, electrical professionals “install, provide and maintain the backbone of power and information system’s needs.”
In 2018, Erin applied for and was accepted into the ETA’s apprenticeship program. Currently, she is halfway through her third year of a five-year program. Erin is working on a new construction build for Baptist Hospital, helping to build a Newborn Intensive Care Unit and a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (NICU/PICU). A typical day involves reporting to the job site at 7 AM and working 10 hours per day. This overtime is essential in completing the project. Erin also attends school twice a week in the evening.
Juggling this hectic schedule has its rewards, however. Erin enjoys the format, stating, “I really enjoy working in the field while going to school. I can directly apply what I am learning in the classroom on the job. Being involved in new construction is rewarding to see the progress and know your work building a hospital for children will impact the community for years to come.”
Making this career pathway change meant that Erin took a more physically demanding job rather than working at her computer desk each day. After some adjustment time, however, she truly enjoys a more active workday. Ultimately, the apprenticeship has opened many doors she hadn’t previously considered and has offered the chance to try several different aspects of electrical work. The future is exciting, as Erin has considered getting into solar and installing chargers for electric vehicles.
“I would encourage anyone, especially women, to get into the trade. It is a lot of hard work. Working full time and going to school isn’t easy, but you will be on a path to an amazing career. Being an electrician has so many different aspects to it, and the work is always changing and evolving with technology. It’s exciting to think about where this will lead in the future!”
At the completion of the apprenticeship, graduates receive 30 credits toward an AS degree in Industrial Management Technology at Florida State College of Jacksonville. So, individuals wishing to pursue a degree can leverage these credits toward developing their career pathway.