‘Elm University’: Elm Electrical launches summer program for high school students

WEST FIELD — Dakota Pandolfini, 17, from Southampton, says she wants to chase storms as part of the utility line crew, heading after a big storm to turn the lights back on.

Pandolfini, who is entering her final year at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton, turned on the lights this week at Elm Electrical’s training center in Westfield, the first student in a class of seven to complete her project of wiring three times and do it to the satisfaction of Elm Electrical’s senior project manager, Paul Asselin.

“When she starts working, be careful,” Asselin said.

Elm Electrical, an automation, construction and electrical service provider founded in 1971, this year launched a new program for high school students interested in the electrical field calling it – half-jokingly – Elm University .

Students spend 28 hours over four days, half in class and the other half in practical work with the tools of their trade.

Five students took the course last week and seven in the final session this week. They use the same training center that Elm uses for its employees and for student employees of Elm’s internal learning program.

Elm offers the high school program partly as a community service and partly to replenish its roster of electricians.

“You can’t find any,” Asselin said. “Ask anyone in the trades. It’s supply and demand, and there is no supply.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2021, the median salary for an electrician in Massachusetts was $68,000 to $83,000 per year.

Students in grades 10-12 were recommended by their teachers or Elm employees. Some come from professional schools, some don’t.

Asselin said students who take a professional electrical program already have a head start, but students who get their first exposure catch up.

Some, like Pandolfini, worked for Elm. She said she worked in the panel shop, building electrical equipment for machines.

The class ended Thursday, Asselin said, with plans for students to wire a three-way switch to a light. It is a configuration that allows a homeowner to turn the dome light on or off from any of the three wall switches.

“It causes problems for some people,” Asselin said.

A veteran of the business, Asselin can point out details in student work that might escape notice.

The light switch, for example, will work if the small screw caps are facing down with the open ends up.

But what if someone sprays water and it gets into the exit, Asselin asked.

“I’ve done enough work, I’ve seen cases where water got in and caused corrosion,” he said.

It will work if the little clips holding the wiring to the wall are at the top, not the bottom.

“These clips will hold the wire, but what if someone presses on them,” he said. “I’ve had so many jobs. I’ve seen where things go wrong. These are all little tips that companions have pointed out to me over the years.