Electricians Energize Quad Cities Project

By Mark McLaughlin | September 28, 2010

Located off of Interstate 280 and Highway 92 in Rock Island, IL, Jumer's Casino & Hotel – currently the largest commercial construction project in the Iowa/Illinois Quad Cities – will open its doors to the public in December. When it is completed, the five-story hotel will feature 205 sleeping rooms, 11 luxury suites, an indoor pool and fitness center, four restaurants, an event center, and gift shop, while the one-story casino will offer 1,100 slot machines, 24 table games, a live poker room, and high-limit slot area. With all the electronics and wiring required by a project of this size, only the most skilled electricians will do.

Ken Holgate, 42, of Coal Valley, IL, is the electrical project superintendent for the casino. Like all the electricians on the job site, he is a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 145. Holgate entered the Quad City Electrical Training Center in Moline, IL, when he was 22 and graduated from a five-year apprenticeship.

Holgate was first introduced to the world of electrical work by a friend of the family, a maintenance electrician for John Deere who also owned an electrical shop. “I helped him with some residential projects,” he says. Eventually he began to work for his father's friend full-time. “Then I read about the training center in the paper. It sounded good, so I visited the Quad City Electrical Training Center and soon became an apprentice.”

According to Holgate, the casino's electrical workforce includes “about 50 electricians and a dozen telecommunications technicians.” He adds that if the electrical wiring in the casino was stretched out in a straight line, “it would extend 750,000 feet or about 142 miles.” That is about the driving distance between Davenport, IA, and Joliet, IL.

“That's not even counting the telecommunications wiring,” Holgate says.

Elaborate Lighting

The casino's 1,100 slot machines may seem highly complex to gamblers, but not so to the electricians. “The gaming machines are pretty basic,” Holgate says. The greatest challenge the electricians have encountered on the project is the elaborate specialty lighting.

“A lighting fixture may be 200 feet long,” Holgate notes. “This is the kind of huge LED lighting you'd usually only find in Vegas.” The casino's lighting controls are also tied in to computer programs. “The most difficult electronics in this project are connected with the lighting,” he says. “The casino also has an elaborate surveillance system of cameras and data cabling.”

The underground conduits also present challenges. “The casino itself is a one-story building with high ceilings,” says Holgate. “Depending on what wall you're coming through, there will be lots of plumbing and other pipes to contend with.”

Illinois law states that a casino's gaming floor needs to be located on a body of water, and according to Holgate there is indeed an artificial body of water under the concrete casino floor. “We call it the bathtub,” he says. “We haven't had any problems working around it.”

Building Careers As They Build A Casino

Cory Tarchinski, 28, of Davenport, joined the Quad City Electrical Training Center at the advice of his high school wrestling coach, who was also an electrician. At Jumer's Casino, “I'm working on all the wiring in the bathrooms,” he says.

Tarchinski has been in the trades for about 10 years, having worked as a residential wireman for eight years. He is a fifth-year apprentice studying to become a commercial/industrial journeyman wireman.

At Jumer's job site, Josh Parr, 28, of Rock Island, runs pipe and wire and also hangs main breaker boxes on the walls. He decided to become an electrician by chance. While he was attending Black Hawk College, he went with a buddy to fill out applications at the Quad City Electrical Training Center. His buddy wasn't accepted, but Parr made the grade.

Parr has been in the building trade for nine years now. He has already completed a three-year residential apprenticeship, and has spent three more years as a residential journeyman electrician. To further his career, he decided to finish up a commercial apprenticeship. “I feel I now have a trade I can stick with,” he said, “because everyone needs an electrician. One day I'd like to move up, maybe become an estimator or a foreman.” He is also considering the possibility of someday owning his own business.

So far, the biggest challenge Parr has seen in his career has been the transition from apprentice to journeyman. “I went from being told what to do – to figuring out for myself what to do,” he says. n


An Electrifying Career Move For Women

By age 36, Theresa Shinners had worked as a waitress, a bartender, a secretary, and a factory worker. But those were only jobs to her – not careers. Finally, she decided it was time for something new and more rewarding. “I wanted to get away from gossipy workplaces,” she says. “I also wanted more responsibility.” That was when Theresa decided to become an electrician.

Now, Theresa, 44, of Davenport, is working at the new Jumer's Casino & Hotel. “I like new and different projects,” says Shinners, “and learning about things I've never worked on before.”

She is entering her fourth year of studying inside wiring at the Quad City Electrical Training Center, having already completed the center's three-year installer technician training apprenticeship.

Equal Pay And 59 Different Career Paths

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), women account for more than half of all workers within financial services, education and health services, and leisure and hospitality. However, women are substantially underrepresented, relative to their share of total employment, in construction, mining, manufacturing, transportation, and utilities – fields traditionally associated with male workers. Women comprise less than 10 percent of the construction industry workforce.

BLS figures reveal that in general, women earn 80.8 percent of what their male counterparts earn. In education and health services, women earn 76.6 percent – and in professional and business services, women are only paid 75.3 percent of what men are earning in the same field.

What do women in union construction receive? “All union contracts with their signatory contractors state that employees will be paid by classification of work, not gender,” says Mike Ellison, training director at the Quad City Electrical Training Center. “Consequently, women are paid exactly the same as women for the same jobs.”

Currently, 10 percent of the training center's first-year apprentices are women, and Ellison would like to see that percentage go up. “A career-conscious person – male or female – should consider becoming an electrician because there are many options for advancement,” he says. “An apprentice can select from 59 different career paths, such as becoming an electrical engineer or even owning his or her own business.”

According to Ellison, Quad City Electrical Training Center apprentices earn while they learn, and receive health and retirement benefits after 1,000 hours in the training program. He adds that apprentices at the training center have excellent earning potential.

“Beginning apprentices earn $12.21 an hour, which is 40 percent of the journeyman scale,” Ellison says. Journeymen electricians, who have graduated from their apprenticeships and entered the workforce, can earn $55,000 to $70,000 annually.

Like Shinners, all apprentices receive practical, hands-on training at the 7,000-square-foot training center, which is outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment for learning wiring, rigging, welding, high-voltage splicing, and more. The training center replicates situations that can be found on the job site to prepare apprentices for future challenges.

Shinners enjoys the ongoing learning that comes with being an apprentice, and sees her work as an electrician as a permanent employment choice. “This will be my career for life,” she says.

For more information on the Quad City Electricial Center, visit www.KnowWatt.org.