Ronny Gillespie: Educating the Subsequent Era of Electricians
With a passion for problem solving and a heart for teaching, Project Manager Ronny Gillespie lives at his “sweet spot”. During the day, Gillespie manages construction projects for Walker & Whiteside, a leading electrical contractor in Greenville, SC. After hours, he pays off as an instructor for the rigorous, four-year Upstate South Carolina Electrical Apprenticeship Program.
The Upstate Electrical Apprenticeship Program is a partnership between six regional electrical companies – CarolinaPower, Eldeco, Hayes & Lunsford, HR Allen, Walker & Whiteside and Watson Electrical. The program is registered with the SC Department of Labor and is administered by the Associated Builders and Contractors of the Carolinas (ABC Carolinas) with courses at Greenville Technical College.
The program uses an electrical engineering curriculum developed by the National Center for Building Education and Research (NCCER). For the 2019-2020 session, there are 35 students in different phases of the curriculum – the largest enrollment to date. Gillespie has taught all electrical levels but is currently teaching level 1 course work.
Gillespie has spent a total of 30 years in the electrical field, the last eight years at Walker & Whiteside. He has spent most of his construction career doing small to medium-sized commercial projects with an emphasis on the retail and restaurant markets. Gillespie holds his master electrician license in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. He also holds a Georgia low voltage license as well as a lightning protection license.
Gillespie’s hands-on experience, combined with a personal desire to share his knowledge with the next generation of electricians, makes him an exceptional instructor, says CarolinaPower President Chris Moore, who has chaired the Upstate Electrical Apprenticeship Committee since its inception 10 years ago .
“When Ronny came on board as an instructor six years ago, he gave the program a boost and enhanced NCCER’s solid curriculum through his leadership and experience. He clearly invests a lot of time with the students. Ronny goes way beyond teaching … he’s about helping them develop their careers, ”said Moore.
Earlier this school year, Gillespie was nominated Adjunct Teacher of the Year at Greenville Tech and received an Excellence Award from the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) last month.
GroundBreak Carolinas recently spoke to Gillespie about the twists and turns of his career path and why he finds teaching so rewarding.
How did you graduate from Lenoir Rhyne University with an educational degree? Working in electrical engineering?
Like many people I have walked one way and landed on another. When I graduated from college, my plan was to teach high school business and coach baseball. During the whole of my studies, I had done electrical work in the summer and I really enjoyed it. After teaching a few, I took a job as an electrician and worked for several companies. Over time, I took the tests, got a license, and worked my way up from there. Prior to joining Walker & Whiteside, I owned and operated my own small electrical company for about 18 years.
With your “day job” you have a lot on your plate. Why did you want to become an instructor for the Upstate Electrical Apprenticeship Program?
I find it extremely rewarding to share knowledge and let people learn something. I’ve always wanted to teach … it’s a gift and I love it. That’s one reason I’ve been teaching Sunday School classes every week for many years. As an apprentice, I do this because it benefits the company and the construction industry. I want to show students that there is something other than a four-year degree that can make them successful. In reality, I probably learn more from them than from me.
What is the most rewarding for you? What is most rewarding for students?
See the results of your work. Immediate results. When you walk into a room, turn on a switch and the lights work … you know you’ve wired them. Proud to say you wired a building. There is so much variety in this career … no two jobs are alike … the tasks vary … every day is different.
What courses do you teach?
I currently teach 23 males and females between the ages of 20 and 40 in the NCCER Electrical Level 1 curriculum. I’ve been teaching level 4 for the past few years.
Are you staying busy with the students outside of the classroom?
My teaching is about building relationships. I really want the students to be successful. Since I also teach the journeyman prep course at Greenville Tech, I can keep in touch with some of them. It’s very exciting when former students let me know that they passed their test and got their license.
How has the student profile changed over the past five years?
I’ve noticed an influx of people looking for a career change. There is both a young lady and a gentleman who were in manufacturing and decided to change jobs. There is also a woman who is currently in the healthcare sector. I’ve also seen the classes get younger. Six years ago, the classes were mainly occupied by employees who were already working in this area. Now the vast majority are from the younger generation … only a few are experienced. That is good for the future of construction workers.
Are you optimistic about the future of trading?
Yes! For the period 2019-2020, the Upstate Electrical Apprenticeship Program has the largest enrollment to date. And as a former judge for state-wide SkillsUSA high school competitions in South Carolina, I’ve seen a lot of bright young people eager to learn and grow. The sky is the limit for them.
How do you get the word (together) about this “other four year degree”?
The program’s six partner companies that employ the electrical trainees work together and individually to raise awareness of this “best kept secret” by attending local high schools, community career fairs, and more. While there are some high schools in other parts of the state that offer electrical engineering classes in their professional programs, there are no school programs of this type in Upstate state. Greenville Tech is also very helpful in educating students, parents, and others about the program.
More about the Upstate Electrical Apprenticeship Program
The trainees work full time during the day and attend classes at Greenville Tech one evening a week. The comprehensive program provides the skills for both construction and maintenance electricians. Participants begin with the NCCER Core Curriculum – Introductory Skills, followed by the NCCER Electrical Level I through IV classes. Successful graduates receive a certificate from Greenville Tech, a nationally recognized certificate from NCCER, and an apprentice diploma from the US Department of Labor.
The Upstate Electrical Apprenticeship Program has completed 20 electricians since its inception in 2008. Only three electrical contractors were involved in the early years of the program – CarolinaPower, Hayes & Lunsford, and Walker & Whiteside. As the program gained momentum in recent years, Watson Electrical, Eldeco and HR Allen came on board.
To learn more about the Upstate Electrical Apprenticeship Program, contact Larry Roberson of Greenville Technical College, Program Coordinator at [email protected] or 864.250.8276.