This year at the National Training Institute, things went a little differently than normal. The IBEW, NECA, and the Electrical Training Alliance joined forces to produce the first ever VOLT Academy. A series of courses geared towards ensuring that we can see the world from each others eyes.

Management understanding labor. Labor understanding management. With the idea of training the workforce of the future not just with competency skills but with character skills as well; put them all together and market share goes up. That’s the goal of the VOLT Academy.

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Transcript – National Training Institute – VOLT AcademyMatthew Walton

Hello, I’m Matthew Walton, thanks for the click. When instructors and other leaders of our industry meet every year at the National Training Institute at the University of Michigan, you could make the case that it is the biggest gathering of the brightest electrical minds anywhere in the world. But this year marked the beginning of a new program that isn’t focused on the technical side of the industry. It is about history, culture, communication, critical thinking, and cooperation. Let’s head out to Ann Arbor.

When summer descends on the University of Michigan, the campus takes on a different look; at least for 10 days or so, because mixed in with the student body is a different group. Maybe a little older, and maybe not fitting the classic college student description; you could say they are here on a business trip. NTI is all about doing whatever is necessary to make the IBEW/NECA team the right choice for the customer. Leaders from the brotherhood, NECA, and the Electrical Training Alliance all agree that those chances will go up if we present a united front. With that in mind, this year marks year number one for the VOLT Academy, VOLT being an acronym for Vibrant Organizations through Leadership Training.

Todd StaffordTodd Stafford – Executive Director, Electrical Training Alliance: “There is a lot of opportunity for advancement in our industry when we advance both parties and how we work together collaboratively. They will learn a lot about the organizational structures, what NECAs interests are, what the IBEWs interests are and how they can work within our industry to benefit both parties. It’s more of a collaboration on a large scale.”

Essentially, at the root of the collaboration is forming a course in which the IBEW, NECA, and the Electrical Training Alliance can learn to see the world through each other’s eyes. Deciding what would go into the curriculum was a two-year process involving experts from all three points of view.

Dr. Julie Brockman came on board in the earliest stages, and she said while there has historically been an adversarial relationship between the IBEW and NECA, there is a path forward.Julie Brockman

Julie Brockman, Ph.D.  – School of Human Resources & Labor Relations, Michigan State University: “One of the areas, that they do really well at together is training and education. I mean that is what NTI is all about!”

When the mission of the course began to take shape the faculty was formed. Professor John Beck, an instructor well versed in labor relations. Dr. Matt Syal, with a background in construction management. And even someone with a background in federal mediation on his resume, Richard Barnes.

The students for the academy were hand picked, they came from all parts of our industry and from all parts of the country. Over the course of the intense, 4-day session the instructors took the students through lectures and small group interactive exercises.

Richard BarnesRichard Barnes – President, C. Richards Barnes & Associates: “We are facing changes rapidly in this industry, technology, demographics – we are seeing so much change and competitive change in the industry that leaders in this industry are going to need new tools and their education can’t be the same as we have given them in the past. Historically, we were born in an adversarial climate and what we have always known is that we must be natural enemies. ‘You’re labor, I’m management, and we aren’t fit to be partners.’ And that’s just not true, we are partners, and natural partners and we have to find ways that we can enhance that partnership to work through the collective bargaining process and have a simultaneous track to collective business development. It can be done.”

So rather than learning how to get labor or managements proverbial “ducks in a row” the classes discuss things such as improving communication skills, using critical thinking, organization cultures, and construction management. There’s more, but all revolved around the message that change is a process we CAN control.Professor John Beck

Professor John Beck – School of Human Resources & Labor Relations, Michigan State University: “If we don’t try to control change we get rolled by it. Then we end up being the victims of change. We need to get beyond that thinking and beyond that level of helplessness.”

Matt Syal, Ph.D. – Construction Management, Michigan State University: “I believe one of the impediments is not knowing and not understanding the process of getting a construction project, doing a construction project, and what all is involved. Also the Matt Syal, Ph.D.number of projects you have to bid, which is a cost involved in the projects. Also keeping your workforce, your supervising workforce employed, all the salaried people so to say. That itself is part of the cost.

Management understanding labor. Labor understanding management. With the idea of training the workforce of the future not just with competency skills but with character skills as well; put them all together and market share goes up. That’s the goal of the VOLT Academy.

Richard Barnes: “I’m leaning on this group of people to say you need to be a voice in this industry, you need to step out. You need to be the guy that’s at the union hall and every meeting talking about the changes in this industry. You need to be the contractor representative that goes back to your member organizations and say, you know it’s time we build a partnership, not holding each other at arms length. Let’s recognize the value of collective bargaining.”

The idea is to grow the VOLT Academy class every year and to send the participants back home to lead by example.

Watch the video above for a testimonials from attendees, what they learned, and why they are excited to come back net year.

“There is an old cartoon, the people in the far end of the row boat at high in the air and the people in the low end are sinking and bailing. The people at the high end are saying ‘Thank god we are not at that end of the boat’. It’s very important for everyone to understand that we are in one boat and that we have to make sure that the industry goes forward.

The students in this years class will meet again in a few months for a few more sessions. Then, after another set of classes at next years NTI they will be VOLT Academy’s inaugural graduating class.

That is it for this edition of IBEW Hour Power. Pass this along to a friend and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Kenny Cooper

IBEW International President Kenny Cooper has been working with the IBEW Hour Power team since he was appointed International President in 2023. President Cooper creates short videos entitled “President’s Message” to bring important announcements and inspirational messages right to your computer screen.

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