AUSTIN (KXAN) — For the last seven years, Chris Thomas has been working behind the scenes as an electrician with the Austin Independent School District. He kept the lights on in schools and made sure electrical systems were running safely and smoothly across the district.
The master electrician is taking on a new role this school year which involves being at the front of the class.
“A wire came off the set screw and it touched the other one and it flashed. ‘Boom!'” Thomas told a room full of juniors and seniors from Lanier High School. “Store lights went down ‘thunk’ and all we saw was this white light in front of us.”
Thomas is launching Lanier’s pre-apprentice dual credit course for the next generation of electricians. It’s a new partnership between Trio Electric, Austin ISD and Austin Community College.
“Society needs tradesmen, we need electricians and so I went through the process and here we are and now I’m their teacher,” said Thomas with a laugh.
Josh Canez, 16, and his classmates are bused to Trio Electric for the free course which meets in a space conducive to learning how an electric company works from the inside out. Over the next few months, they will also be exposed to actual construction job sites and learn how to bend conduit and read electrical blueprints.
“What excited me, I was going to learn something hands-on because my mom told me if I go to college and that doesn’t work out I can have a backup plan,” said Canez.
The students were promised a guaranteed job next summer making $13 an hour, plus the opportunity to make much more if they decide to stick with it.
“It takes these disruptive programs which are taking communities predominately of color and giving them access to the workforce and certifications and college-going culture which has far too long been absent from their world,” said Lanie High School Principal Ryan Hopkins.
“I’ve reached the pinnacle so now here I am being a teacher and sharing the prospects that they get to look forward to,” said Hopkins.
Trio Electric has similar high school programs in Spring Branch ISD and Grand Prairie ISD this school year. The classes are free to students.