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In Focus: A Short Circuit

Don A. Bowen, owner of DAB Electric, Inc.removes the conductor for an old hot water heater from an electrical panel board. (The Daily Triplicate/Bryant Anderson).
Don A. Bowen, owner of DAB Electric, Inc.removes the conductor for an old hot water heater from an electrical panel board. (The Daily Triplicate/Bryant Anderson).

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

A new law implemented Monday requires all electricians working with C-10 contractors to become state certified or to find a new line of work.

The results of their new certification process may have an unpleasant ripply effect in Del Norte County, though.

"This will affect the community because the state won't let the unqualified ones work," said Don A. Bowen, owner of DAB Electric, Inc.

Bowen estimates that no more than 15 electrical contractors are available for work locally.

"The logistics are not even funny for people who are looking now for electricians to work for them," he said.

If any of the electricians who work here now were to leave, the implication is clear that potential customers could have to wait longer for their turns to have work done.

Waiting periods now vary from weeks to months.

C-10 contractors install wiring that connects to systems stronger than 100 amperes.

They employ people who "pull wire," according to Dean Fryer, spokesman for the state Division of Industrial Standards.

"They don't make the connections," Fryer said, referring to the contractors' employees.

There's a reason for the change, which took a couple years to become law: When electricians make mistakes, buildings can catch on fire.

"There was a push several years ago by the industry to certify everybody," said Fryer. "(Implementing it) ... has been pushed back several times, but now it's time to bite the bullet."

But the certification test — an open book exam — is tripping up a high percentage of the applicants who take it.

More embarrassing is its open book nature. Part of the exam tests theories that apply to electrical work, Bowen said.

"The rest is right out of the book," he said.

The code book is a 2-inch-thick volume of small print. Fryer said the test asks 75 questions and is three hours long.

"A person taking the test wouldn't have time to spend looking up each item in the code book," he said.

As of Dec. 7, some 55,114 people had taken their certification exams. Of those, 11,043 failed the tests.

Only 78 percent of those tested to be general electricians pass their test.

For fire/life/safety technicians, the passing rate is 72 percent.

Only 36 percent of those who take the residential electrician's test pass their exams.

The scope of work licensed contractors can legally do is mandated by the type of certification they seek.

Their schooling holds trainees to some rigorous standards, but the failure rates seem to speak volumes.

"We have a lot of people who are great craftsmen, but they need more book learning," Bowen said. "We don't get too many chances to use the Code Book while we're on the job."

He added that the only place close to Crescent City where people can find the education they need is Eureka, some 80 miles away.

Unless more people are trained in the field, however, the playing field Bowen refers to will be leveled further by retirement in not too many years.

"The logistics now aren't even funny for people who are looking for work," he said.

Del Norte Unified Schools board member Bob Berkowitz said representatives for local schools have "convinced the governor to send Vocational and Technical Education funds to areas such as this."

Schools also have formed a partnership between themselves and Crescent City-Del Norte-Chamber of Commerce.

It allows students to be employed by local "technical" businesses, enabling them to make money and learn a trade. Berkowitz calls the program "a success story."

He and others are ironing out "the kinks" in a draft contract between some local trade unions, also intended to furnish jobs for students.

Presumably if enough students decided to pursue a career as an electrician, the hope would be that a local apprenticeship program could be started.

"The board voted to endorse the idea this fall," Berkowitz, a member of the Del Norte Unified School District Board said. "We're working through the contract now."

Berkowitz said that almost unlimited numbers of students could take part in the program.

•••••

Failure rates

As of Dec. 7, percentage of Californians that have failed the following electricians certification tests:

•Residential electrician: 64%

•Fire/life/safety technician: 28%

•General electricians: 22%

SOURCE: California Division of Industrial Standards

 
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