Wayne Ashby, right, with IBEW Local 11 organizer and mentor Oscar Martinez.

A Brotherhood Within a Brotherhood

Veterans Electrical Entry Program to Provide Transitioning Service Members Job Options   

By Robert Fulton 

In November of 2014, Retired Army National Guardsman Wayne Ashby was doing contract custody work for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when he received an email indicating that IBEW Local 11 was looking for military veterans to join its ranks. 

Because of the local’s emphasis on recruiting military veterans, IBEW fast tracked Ashby into its apprenticeship program. He started in March of 2015, turned out with all necessary licensing in May 2020 and is now a journeyman electrician currently working for Morrow Meadows at Kaiser Permanente in West Los Angeles. 

Though Local 11 has made an effort in recent years recruiting military veterans, that emphasis nationally has been inconsistent at best. Enter the Veterans Electrical Training Alliance, or VEEP. According to the program’s website, VEEP’s mission is to provide “transitioning service members and recently separated veterans the ability to reenter the civilian workforce in a high demand field that offers excellent earning potential.” 

“It allows them a direct pathway to get into our apprenticeship programs within the IBEW,” said Mike Kufchak, IBEW 11 organizer and Director of Veteran Affairs. Kufchak said that VEEP originated approximately five years ago, and there is a renewed effort to promote it.  “It hasn’t gained the traction or the momentum that it was intended to gain.” 

VEEP is a national pre-apprentice program offered by the Electrical Training Alliance (ETA), a collaboration between the IBEW and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). A retired military member or one who is in the last 180 days of service can join the free seven-week course of study. Upon completion, he or she will be placed in a local apprenticeship program. 

When there is mutual interest between a local military base and a nearby training center, the ETA works to get a training agreement in place. Unfortunately, training is currently only offered in Anchorage, Alaska with Local 1547. Thus the current re-emphasis of the program is to remove the burden of having to relocate to Alaska for training for seven weeks by offering more training locales. 

“As I started researching the program, what I found out was that we were sitting on a diamond mine and we just didn’t know it at the time,” Kufchak said, noting that southern California is home to numerous military installations, including March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in San Diego County. “We’re on a fast track to soon develop our own resident program.” 

Before joining IBEW 11 in 2014, Kufchak spent 32 years in the Marines, retiring as a Sergeant Major. He knows what military vets can offer in the civilian world. 

“We see them as an absolute genuine fit: reliable, responsible, dependable, accountable, drug-free and in some situations they even have security clearances which can be vastly utilized,” Kufchak said. “Our contractors absolutely love these veterans for what they bring to the table.” 

Ashby, a Los Angeles County native, entered the Army in 1991 as a 17-year-old right out of high school. He originally planned to serve for three years and then attend college, but he loved military life and stayed enlisted in the Army and then the Army National Guard until his retirement in 2013. A Business Management degree from Columbia College-Los Alamitos followed, but Ashby still hadn’t found a satisfying career until he saw that e-mail about Local 11 looking for military veterans to join its apprenticeship program.  

Ashby had no experience as an electrician, but he was a combat engineer in the Army and not opposed to hard work. 

“I thought, ‘This sounds interesting. I get to work with my hands again,’” Ashby, 48,  said. “It’s what I like to do. I feel good when I build something.” 

Ashby didn’t join IBEW 11 through VEEP, but he emphasized the importance the local places on veteran recruitment and the value of having former military members in the fold.  

“If we can raise a veteran community within our local and the apprenticeship, it helps us bid for jobs and get more work,” Ashby said, adding that the veteran caucus within the Local is a “brotherhood within a brotherhood.” 

Kufchak hopes to have a local VEEP program up and running in 2022, continuing IBEW 11’s efforts with military veterans. He maintains that the marriage between veterans and the building trades is natural: contractors get trained while dependable electricians and former military members get career jobs with union benefits 

“It’s just another way of providing opportunities and options for our transitioned service members to get into a good union trade, to provide for themselves and, of course, for their families,” Kufchak said. “I prefer to capture these young men and women as they’re conducting their transition from the military rather than having them discover the hard way after couch surfing for a year or two years, figuring out what in life it is they want to do. I like to get out there early and present these opportunities and options to them.” 

To learn more about the Veterans Electrical Entry Program, visit https://in2veep.com

Photo Caption: Wayne Ashby, right, with IBEW Local 11 organizer and mentor Oscar Martinez.

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