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Increased electrician licensing oversight an offshoot of state law

By: Dan Shaw, [email protected]//April 7, 2014//

Increased electrician licensing oversight an offshoot of state law

By: Dan Shaw, [email protected]//April 7, 2014//

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The state’s licensing requirement for electricians will mean many more people who work in the field will need direct supervision.

According to records from the state Department of Safety and Professional Services, which issues various credentials, 1,242 people got Wisconsin electrician licenses of one type or another between the start of the year and April 2, the day after workers were required to get a state-issued license if they were to continue working in the electrical trade. Of those, 420 were certified as registered electricians, meaning they must work under the direct supervision of a master or journeyman electrician.

During the debate leading up to Wisconsin lawmakers’ adoption of a new licensing law for electricians, the supervision requirement had provoked concerns from charitable organizations that use volunteer labor to perform routine electrical work. Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity, for instance, received an exemption from the new rules after estimating the need to have a journeyman or master looking over the shoulders of volunteers on job sites would add $7,000 to the cost of a house.

But for many electrical contractors, the supervision requirement simply is a step new employees must take on their way to higher certifications. Robert Ebbers, president of Burlington-based Rewald Electric Co. Inc., said only one person on his staff has a registered-electrician license and that employee should become a journeyman in the next few years.

“Basically,” Ebbers said, “that registered-electrician category was made for beginners or apprentices who are working under a journeyman electrician.”

The supervision requirement has not damaged the popularity of the registered-electrician license. The 420 people who became registered electricians in the first three months of the year far exceeds the 156 who became journeymen and the 58 who became masters during the same period, according to the DSPS.

Predictably, the pace of licensing picked up as the April 1 deadline approached. The number of people who got masters licenses went from 281 in 2012 to 367 in 2013, and the number who received journeymen licenses rose from 630 to 852 in the same two years, according to the DSPS.

The increase stemmed in part from campaigns conducted by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union and the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin trade organization. Mark Lauer, business manager at IBEW Local 14 in western Wisconsin, said the union began, shortly after the state Legislature passed the original licensing requirements in 2008, to encourage members to put their employees on a path toward getting one type of certification or another.

And even before the adoption of the statewide rule, many local governments had licensing requirements, Lauer said. Usually then, the only companies with no licensed employees worked exclusively in rural areas.

Joe Klein, president of Greenfield-based Dnesco Electric Inc., said the new licensing laws have little effect on his company. Supervision always has been required for apprentices, he said, and his expectation has been that newcomers to the company will work their way up at least to the journeyman level and eventually be able to work independently.

“We are a training contractor,” Klein said, “and we want them to be our long-term employees.”

Ebbers said he has much the same goal.

“That would be my expectation,” he said, “that eventually they get into an apprenticeship program or get a journeyman’s license.”


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