Every Second Counts for Tampa-Bound Apprentice Fabian Santillan

By Evan Henerson

It started out as a fun in-class exercise: creating an outlet by splicing together two wires and powering it up with a 9-Volt battery, and completing the task as quickly as possible

But for Local 11 apprentice, Fabian Santillan, speed-wiring has become more than just fun and games. On November 4, Santillan heads to Tampa Florida where  – as the fastest student in California – he will compete with 49 other apprentices from across the country for a $40,000 grand prize in the IDEAL Tools National Championships.

“I’m very excited to go and my wife is really excited, too,” said Santillan. “I wish I could take my kids, but I kind of don’t want to.”

As a first-year apprentice in 2021, Santillan completed the challenge in record time, winning his school’s competition. In 2022, he began attending events that, if he recorded the fastest time, would qualify him for the national championships.

“One day I went right after work and I got 1 minute and 23 seconds,” recalled Santillan. “A guy from IDEAL was there and he told me that was the best time for a student in the state of California. Then an apprentice student in San Diego got 1 minute and 18 seconds, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to push myself and try to beat that time.’” 

The resolve became a mini-obsession with Santillan. At an Anaheim qualifying event, he took down his San Diego competitor, clocking in at 1 minute, 13 seconds, but Santillan didn’t think that time would be safe. So he took a leave of absence from school to attend another qualifying event.

“I’m a competitive person,” he admitted. “I was like, ‘I have to do this. Even if they don’t approve the leave of absence, I’ve got to go.’ The event was on a Thursday and I was able to beat my time and get 1 minute 12 seconds.”

“But my wife kept pushing me. She said, ‘No, we’re not leaving here until you get 1 minute and 5 seconds.”

After multiple attempts, not only did Santillan get to 1 minute 5, he eclipsed even that score and ended at 1 minute and 2 seconds. That record stood, earning Santillan a spot in the national competition representing the state of California in the apprenticeship category.

The placement has earned Santillan some attention within his union, including an appearance on stage with IBEW International President Lonnie Stephenson and other IBEW and NECA dignitaries at the recent apprenticeship industry night in Pasadena.

Santillan had worked a series of non-union jobs before being recruited to join Local 11. As a husband and father of two young daughters, he was persuaded to look into the opportunities offered by the Local 11 Apprenticeship Program. An employee of DSE Electric, He begins his second year in November.

“I’ve met a lot of people in the union already. All the instructors are cool and nice to talk to. They all have their own ways of teaching and I like that,” he said. “You learn something new from everybody.”

He joined the union in the hopes of securing a future for his wife and family. “We needed benefits. We needed a better life,” said Santillan. “I want to be a journeyman and accomplish even more goals like getting my own home, becoming a foreman, maybe an instructor.”

And he has a more immediate goal for the IDEAL National Championship in November.

“My mentality,” said Santillan, “is that I’m coming back 40K richer.”

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