Robert Castro, Sr. and Robert Castro, Jr.
At WECA, it’s not uncommon to have students going through programs with their siblings (like the Grissom brothers, all Commercial Apprentices) or following in the footsteps of relatives working as electricians or electrical contractors (like Carroll and Mark Mendenhall, the father-son duo behind WECA Member Contractor Mendenhall Electric). However, WECA has never had a father-son pair go through and graduate from their Apprenticeship program at the same time! But Robert Castro, Sr., and Robert Castro, Jr.—both 2021 WECA Southern California Commercial Electrical graduates hailing from our Riverside training facility—have made WECA history.
Prior to entering the WECA Commercial Electrical Apprenticeship program and apprenticing with WECA Member Contractor Helix Electric, both Robert Sr. and Robert Jr. worked for a small pest control company alongside their respective son and brother, Elijah, also a WECA Commercial Electrical Apprentice! Once Elijah started with WECA, it wasn’t long before Robert Sr. and Robert Jr. followed.
“Being a commercial electrician is a great-paying job with a future. I had different jobs before that didn’t really go anywhere,” says Robert Sr.
Meanwhile, Robert Jr. says that “This apprenticeship has put me in a much better position than before I joined it. I have a much more stable job and make a much more comfortable wage as well. I also am in a trade that can take me almost anywhere in the country if I needed to move; I am very grateful to have had this experience. Plus, they [my father and brother] told me how great it was. I thought the program had great opportunities and I was excited to learn a new trade as well.”
Though Robert Sr. and Robert Jr. went through their Commercial Electrical Apprenticeship program through the WECA Riverside training facility, they unfortunately did not attend classes together due to Robert Sr. having started his apprenticeship program six months prior to Robert Jr. Both father and son, however, say that Keith Smart was their favorite instructor.
“Keith is very thorough, clear and knowledgeable,” says Robert Sr.
“He was very knowledgeable about the trade and always had an answer for any question. He was always in a great mood and was also relatable and fun to talk with. He taught us lots of useful things we used in the classroom and out in the field as well,” says Robert Jr.
Though they weren’t able to partake in classroom instruction together, Robert Sr. and Jr. made up for it by having the opportunity to work together on the job for their employer, Helix Electric.
“We’re a close family, so spending that extra time together at work and carpooling was nice,” says Robert Sr.
And on the job, both Robert Sr. and Jr. reported having similar things they most enjoyed.
“My favorite thing that I learned during my apprenticeship was working on a hospital generator system; it was a great learning experience,” says Robert Sr.
Likewise, Robert Jr. says that “My most memorable job was at a hospital in Loma Linda. It was a 16-story children’s hospital and I did a majority of my work there on a floor that only had air handlers. There were 30-plus handlers the size of shipping containers on the floor, and I found it very fun to bring the power and see them turned on.”
Robert Sr. says that after graduation, he plans to stay with Helix Electric to continue his education and move up in the company.
Robert Jr., meanwhile, says he wants to learn more about the trade and become a better journeyman, and use his skills and knowledge when he moves out of state.
Robert Jr. advises that current and future apprentices “Should stay focused in class and in the field and always have a positive attitude. It is worth all the work you put in. And, this is one of the best opportunities you can take advantage of. Stay determined and learn from the smartest and best students and workers you come into contact with, too.”
Southern California Commercial Electrical Valedictorian Donald Williams
Being a Commercial Electrician can take you to unexpected places. For 2021 Southern California Commercial Electrical Graduate and Valedictorian Donald Williams, it literally took him to SeaWorld, where he works as an electrician.
“I am touching and doing things that I have never done. It is exciting and full of learning opportunities. I am also now able to use my knowledge to help animals and make sure they are taken care of,” says Williams.
But before Williams got to spend his days in the presence of sea creatures, he was working warehouse and retail jobs until he became an Electrician Trainee and then a Commercial Electrical Apprentice with WECA.
“I started with WECA as an Electrician Trainee in the GetWired 101 course,” says Williams. “Halfway through that, I became an indentured Apprentice, finished up the 101 course, and started my Apprenticeship.”
Williams apprenticed with two member contractors during his time with WECA; first Bergelectric, and then he finished out his Apprenticeship with Northwest Edison. Both employers—coupled with his classroom learning at WECA—introduced him to many aspects of the trade.
“Everything from underground to estimating and project engineering. My on-the-job training was very extensive. The on-the-job training taught me to overcome and work through the stressful situations that accompany construction. At WECA, I was introduced to motors and motor controls and having the hands-on training in that from WECA got me hired. WECA gave me a career and a way to support my wife and three kids,” says Williams.
Williams says that he was able to become the Commercial Electrical Valedictorian of the Southern California Class of 2021 by shooting for the top from day one.
“I made sure to ask questions with things I didn’t understand,” says Williams. “I listened and took notes to refer to. I also helped others who didn’t understand and in return it solidified what I already knew.”
Williams also says that “Nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes. The willingness to own up to and learn from those mistakes is what separates the average electrician from the best electricians. Listen to learn, not to respond. It’s also okay not to know something, but always ask questions and write it down if you need to.”
Though Williams is tenacious and insightful, he also credits his success to his wife, to WECA’s San Diego instructional team, and to 2021 Southern California Commercial Electrical Apprenticeship Salutatorian Justin Salter.
Says Williams. “I want to give a shout-out to Justin Salter, the salutatorian, who provided friendly competition and was someone I was able to bounce ideas off of. He was always open to answering questions and had no problem telling me when I was wrong. And to my wife, for dealing with the sometimes long hours and long drives I had to take when I was working. She’s always been super supportive. I knew I always had a loving home to come to after a long day at work. There’s many others I could give shout-outs to like my foreman, project managers, and journeymen, but I’ve got to keep this short.”
Now that Williams has graduated from WECA—as the Commercial Electrical Valedictorian for the Southern California Class of 2021 to boot—he says that one day he would love to teach and give his knowledge to others so they can be successful like he has been.
Southern California Commercial Electrical Salutatorian Justin Salter
“WECA really puts your life on track to succeed,” says Justin Salter, 2021 Southern California Commercial Graduate and Salutatorian. “And I truly believe the WECA program is fantastic. When you first start out, five years seems like a very long time. However, with the combination of fantastic healthcare, regular raises and more—it’s not many fields in life where you can get paid a good wage while being formally trained in your chosen career. Coming out of it, making the kind of money electricians make while being debt-free—I know many of my friends who went to college instead regret going that route because of the massive hole they now have to climb out of. It’s a very good career option.”
Salter, who spent his Apprenticeship with Bergelectric, says that being with Bergelectric has been a life changing experience for him.
“I haven’t regretted it for a second. I went from a dead-end job to a sky’s the limit career. I’m now almost six years in and feel like I’m just getting started. I have more opportunities now than I had before, and a ladder to climb!”, says Salter.
Salter also says that WECA’s education prepared him for his career by making him take his education seriously and pushing for opportunities at Bergelectric.
“I found myself in a leadership role and making decisions on the job daily,” says Salter. “I was very pleasantly surprised at how prepared I was to make choices. Whether it was sizing wire for long pulls and doing voltage drop and derating calcs, sizing fuses for RTU’s, or determining ground and bonding throughout the building…I felt capable of either easily knowing the answer or knowing how to find the answer. It was a huge confidence boost to know that I was capable of making these determinations and it was a huge part of being prepared for my career of choice.”
While with WECA, Justin completed his in-classroom learning at our San Diego training facility. “I consider my classes with Tom Thompson and then Talon Pobuda to be invaluable…I always appreciated insights while using their real-world experience to what we were learning and how it would apply to us in the field. This added a depth of understanding we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, and labs and hands-on work during class was invaluable to applying to what we were being taught,” says Salter.
Salter believes that one of the most important factors in doing well at WECA is truly taking your education seriously.
“Not just going through the motions to get through the class and gathering enough information to try to take your journeyworker test,” says Salter. “It’s important to really try and understand what we’re being taught and strive to understand it better with each class. To ask questions when you don’t understand and try to apply what you’re learning in the field. I think a good mechanical aptitude is helpful to jump-starting your career. While it is a skill that can be learned, it definitely helps to progress your career if you’re handy going into it.”
Southern California Low Voltage Apprenticeship Graduate Drew Sisson
Bowling led 2021 Southern California Low Voltage Graduate Drew Sisson to WECA and a career as a Low Voltage Technician.
“It all started with a friend I knew from bowling who offered me a job,” says Sisson. “He started my path on the career I now have.”
Sisson, who attended the Low Voltage Apprenticeship program at WECA’s San Diego training facility and apprenticed with WECA Member Contractors Tri Signal Integration and Bergelectric, says that his WECA experience was enjoyable and allowed him to meet many good people that he continues to talk to today.
“Neil [Pesarillo], my instructor, was great and made it not seem like going to school. A WECA education prepared me in a way which challenged me to think critically. Most importantly, it prepared me to pass my certifications which are becoming more and more important in the industry, due to the fact that prevailing wage jobs are now requiring certified people.”
Sisson continues, saying that “WECA provided me with a career. I had worked many jobs and still could not say I had an actual career. It may not have been my original choice of what I wanted to be or do, but I have work every day and I make good money now.”
Meanwhile, Sisson says that his on-the-job training with employers Tri Signal Integration and Bergelectric were good experiences.
“It’s like with any new job, you have to learn what you are doing and it is up to you to absorb as much as information as you can,” says Sisson. “Doing this will only benefit you and give you recognition, allowing you to rise faster in the field. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and hustle. You won’t learn anything or be taught anything if you don’t show you are willing and eager to learn. Respect is a huge thing in this field, and you won’t be taught [on-the-job] if people don’t think you are worth it.”
Reflecting upon his time with WECA, Sisson says to “Pay attention to what the instructor is saying and relax. Don’t overthink it and simplify everything. It may seem like a lot with the code books, but don’t overcomplicate it. Work hard and enjoy your time at WECA. Think of it as a vacation and not school and you will enjoy it.”
Now that he’s graduated, Sisson says that he plans to continue to get more certifications to try and progress and grow in the field.
But there’s one person that he couldn’t have done all this without.
“I want to give a shout-out to my girlfriend Amanda, whom I love the most."
Southern California Low Voltage Apprenticeship Graduate Garrett Wallace
2021 Southern California Low Voltage Apprentice graduate Garrett Wallace says that if people are interested in becoming Low Voltage Technicians, “WECA is the best way to help your career.”
“I went to WECA for three years [while apprenticing with Bergelectric] to do the Low Voltage classes,” says Wallace. “It was a great experience and flew by. WECA gave me an amazing career and helped over the last few years to be better at my job.”
Wallace says that the WECA program helped prepare him for his career by “Helping me understand how certain systems work and helped us understand how to go through the code book. Being able to navigate the code book really helps us out a lot in the field to make sure everything is up to code.”
Additionally, Wallace says that current and future Low Voltage Apprentices should work hard in class and make sure they learn in the best way possible to navigate the code books, and always make sure to study for tests and take lots of notes.
Wallace also gives his employer, Bergelectric, rave reviews.
“Working with Bergelectric has helped me out a lot because everyone I work with helped me be better,” says Wallace. “Bergelectric helped me do things the correct way and always answered any questions I had. My on-the-job training has helped out a lot with being better at my job. Over the last few years, I have learned so much by being on-the-job and learning more every day.”
In fact, Wallace plans to stay on with Bergelectric now that he has graduated.
“I plan to move up at Bergelectric and become a foreman and keep getting better at my job by learning new things and bettering myself. I plan on also getting a couple fire alarm certifications and continuing to learn more about the code book.”
Wallace also extends shout-outs to “Bergelectric for hiring me and helping me through my career.” He also thanks his instructor, Neil Pesarillo from WECA’s San Diego training facility, because “he helped all of us so much and was always willing to answer all our questions. And I would also like to thank my fiancée for being supportive and always pushing me to be better.
Northern California Double-Program Graduate Autumn DeChaine
It’s not everyday that WECA gets to graduate an Apprentice who has succeeded in not just one—but two!—Apprenticeship programs. That’s the case with 2021 Northern California Commercial Electrical Apprenticeship graduate Autumn DeChaine, who also graduated (as Valedictorian!) from WECA’s Low Voltage Apprenticeship program in 2014.
“I’m really glad that I chose to graduate from the Low Voltage Apprenticeship program before joining the Commercial Electrical Apprenticeship program,” says DeChaine. “It added value to my career as an electrician and gave me a good foundation before going into the Commercial Electrical Apprenticeship program.”
DeChaine says that the Low Voltage Apprenticeship program and the Commercial Electrical Apprenticeship program are similar in that they both follow the WECA structure of class time and homework, but obviously differ in terms of the curriculum.
“The main difference between working as a Low Voltage Apprentice and a Commercial Electrical Apprentice is that as a Low Voltage Apprentice, you are responsible for knowing one or two systems (fire life safety or voice data video). As an electrician, you are on the job from the very beginning and you are responsible for all the electrical systems,” says DeChaine.
DeChaine says that her favorite part of the Commercial Electrical Apprenticeship program was going back to work after time in the classroom and integrating what she learned.
“I also enjoyed the camaraderie of going to school with the same people year after year and supporting each other,” says DeChaine. “As far as the curriculum, I loved learning motor controls and relay logic.”
Now that DeChaine has completed both programs, she says that she still has a lot to learn and plans on running bigger projects in the future.
And, DeChaine adds that she has been with her company, Vanden Bos Electric, for nine years and still loves it there. DeChaine says she plans to incorporate all her education and work on both fire life safety and electrical systems.
“I just completed my first project as a foreman. There is a lot incorporated in running projects that you don’t think about as an Apprentice or Journeyman; I learned a lot and am optimistic about my future with Vanden Bos Electric,” says DeChaine.