Member Spotlight: Kennitha Wade, Electrician & NIETC Instructor

Kennitha Wade, Electrician & NIETC Instructor.

In the world of electrical trades, Kennitha Wade stands out as a beacon of inspiration and advocacy. As an electrician and instructor at the NECA IBEW Electrical Training Center (NIETC), her passion for her craft and dedication to empowering others shine brightly. Beyond her technical expertise, Kennitha is known for her unwavering commitment to investing in outreach initiatives and her active involvement in organizations such as the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus (EWMC).

Join us as we uncover the stories behind her career, her insights into the importance of outreach, and the impact she’s making in shaping the future of the electrical trades. Get ready to be inspired by the remarkable work of Kennitha Wade as we celebrate her contributions to her profession and community.

How did you get started with IBEW Local 48?Kennitha Wade, Electrician & NIETC Instructor.

You know, right after high school, everyone was like, “Go to college, become a nurse.” That was the plan for me, according to pretty much everyone. Even though I had absolutely no interest in doing that, I ended up following that advice and wasting money on a path I wasn’t even interested in. But I did it because that’s what everyone—my advisors, society—said was the right move.

“It’s all about sticking to what you’re passionate about, even when the going gets tough.”

But deep down, I always knew construction was my thing. I’m all about puzzles and math—always have been. And construction? It’s like the perfect mix of both for me. Out there in the field, it’s like tackling a massive puzzle every day, figuring things out, and then making it all come to life with my own hands. Plus, I get to think on my feet, use tools, and get creative.

Getting into construction, though, was tough. I remember the days of hitting up Yahoo Jobs, throwing my application at any entry-level construction job I could find. Nobody ever got back to me or gave me a clue on what to do next.

Then there’s my friend from my beauty school days, who switched gears and became an electrician. That’s how I heard about the IBEW, though I had no idea how to get in or what it involved. Later, I spotted a flyer for Oregon Tradeswomen and thought, “Why not check it out?” They had this photo of women working on a construction site, and it just clicked with me. I figured I’d attend their orientation to see what’s up. What I heard there resonated with me, so I decided to apply, not sure what to expect. And I got in.

This journey from following a path others set for me to diving into what I truly love has been quite the ride. It’s all about sticking to what you’re passionate about, even when the going gets tough.

What did the apprenticeship program entail?

You go through a five-year program. I did, at least. During this time, you’re learning your job by actually doing it—that’s on-the-job training for you. From the very first day as an apprentice, you’re out there on a construction site, doing electrical tasks under the guidance of a journeyman. That’s your daily routine: go to work, learn how to do the job, get the job done, and then move on to the next one. And this goes on for five years. By the end of those five years, you’ve got a mix of practical experience from working on sites and knowledge from classroom lessons.

This blend of fieldwork and book learning prepares you to take your licensing exam. After all, becoming a journeyman electrician is a licensed profession—you need to pass this exam to earn your title. I finished my apprenticeship in 2017 and then joined the staff at the training center in 2021.

How did you get involved with the Electrical Workers Minority caucus?

I got involved with EWMC pretty early in my apprenticeship, maybe around my second term. It was all new to me—I didn’t really understand what the group was all about. I had received some emails inviting me to join in, but when you’re just starting out in a new career, it’s tough to juggle everything. I was still trying to balance work, school, and life. So, within my first year, they invited me to a gumbo feed event they were hosting.

“For me, the EWMC is like the heart of the IBEW. It’s what keeps the IBEW working and running, and it brings the cohesiveness of being a part of something bigger.”

Honestly, I didn’t have the extra money to buy a ticket, but I figured if I could help out in some way, I would. So, I offered to volunteer. I didn’t even know what I was volunteering for, but they seemed to need some extra hands, so I showed up and pitched in. I think this was back in 2013. Then, they offered for me to go to a conference the next year. I wasn’t sure why they wanted me there, but I thought, “Why not? I’ll check it out.”

And it was that conference for me that really opened my eyes to what IBEW was all about. For me, the EWMC is like the heart of the IBEW. It’s what keeps the IBEW working and running, and it brings the cohesiveness of being a part of something bigger. So, going to that first conference was like, “Oh, this is way more than just a career to make money and take care of your family. This is way bigger than that.”

And so, I learned a lot more about the labor movement, leadership development, and various other things, and making a positive impact on your community is a big part of what the EWMC is about. So since that very first time, I haven’t missed one of those conferences. And I’m very, very active in our local chapter.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing women and minorities in the trades?Kennitha Wade, Electrician & NIETC Instructor, working in the electrical industry.

For one, it’s tough to picture yourself in a place where you’re not seeing people represented who look like you. When you don’t see opportunities advertised to folks who resemble you, it’s really hard to imagine, “Is there a place for me there or not?” That’s one aspect of it. Another thing is just the lack of information.

The idea that you have to go to college to pursue anything else is still a widespread belief today. People think that if they don’t go to college and get a degree, they can’t do much beyond high school. So some of the opportunities available aren’t well-known. Another issue is, that apart from outreach efforts, there isn’t enough offered in schools to equip individuals with the skills and knowledge for certain jobs or even inform them that such jobs exist.

“When you’re solely focused on survival, planning for the future is difficult. It’s hard to envision a future beyond where you’re at, let alone what career you want.”

You know, there’s a lack of hands-on learning in many schools. It’s mostly focused on textbooks, and practical experience is limited. While some schools offer hands-on opportunities, not all do, and it’s often the schools attended by minority students that miss out on these chances. There’s no outreach, nothing to offer more than just what you’re doing—going to class and trying to stay focused. Maybe participating in sports if your parents can afford it. 

Another challenge is the resources available in the community. When I finished high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do next. I knew what I was interested in, but my main focus was just getting by—surviving high school, navigating life, and staying productive. Many students from my neighborhood have the same mindset: just trying to survive and get out of their current situation into something better. When you’re solely focused on survival like that, planning for the future becomes difficult. It’s hard to envision a future beyond where you’re at, let alone what career you want. It’s like you’re stuck in a cycle, and breaking out of it seems impossible when you’re dealing with poverty and struggling to make ends meet. It’s tough to see beyond those circumstances.

How do you approach outreach in the community?

As I attend career fairs and such, the first time I had an “aha” moment was when I went to a career fair and thought, “Let’s invite as many people as possible to sit at our table.” Let’s make an effort to include every gender and minority status we can. 

And, you know, watching all these different students come to the table and talk to people who look like them was really interesting. It made me realize that maybe there’s something to that. When I go to many career fairs, I often see a lot of white males or even white females, but students of color aren’t coming to that table because they don’t feel comfortable.

So, you know, I think that’s a big part—investing in outreach by intentionally including people who look like the demographics you’re trying to reach. That’s a key aspect of actually attracting those individuals. If you’re not intentionally including people who look like them, then you’re less likely to engage the audience you want to capture.

What are some of the challenges young people have in the apprenticeship program?

Getting the job done sometimes becomes challenging because people prioritize their time over showing up for work. Understandably, people value their time, but I also find it hard to understand how going to work isn’t a priority. It’s ingrained in us that you have to work to survive, yet people call in all the time. I think this is just another aspect of the changing work-life balance—nowadays, it’s more about life than work for many people.

And you know, even if the work ethic isn’t top-notch, employers might still hold onto employees because the need is so great. They can’t afford to let them go, even if they only show up halfway every day. But eventually, when times get really tough, that attitude might backfire. In the meantime, people tend to do whatever they feel like doing, I guess. So, one of the challenges of having more young workers in the industry is ensuring that the work gets done on time. Meeting deadlines, especially in construction, is crucial because if people don’t show up, the work can’t get done.

And it’s also important to instill a strong work ethic. I often talk about the benefits of hard work and the importance of saving for retirement, but high school students might not fully understand that yet. But, when they see the paycheck, they’re like, “Oh, yeah. That makes sense.”

What are some suggestions you have for kids considering the trades?

I often think about subjects we used to consider a waste of time, like math. Math, in particular, is really important. You don’t have to be a math genius to get into the trades, but you do need to be comfortable with it—doing calculations, working with tools, that sort of thing. So, knowing that these subjects are important to focus on, especially in high school, is something I like to emphasize. You don’t have to excel in math, but you need to be comfortable with it.

Also, if you can, take any hands-on or Career and Technical Education classes available in high school. You don’t necessarily need work experience to join a trade, but having related classes on your record looks good and can help you get started sooner rather than later. 

What are you loving about being an instructor?Kennitha Wade, Electrician & NIETC Instructor, working in the electrical industry and presenting at a conference.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m not always being used to my fullest potential. Like, I feel like I have way more to offer. But listening to some of the feedback from the students here, representation is huge. We have some students who express how happy they are to have a person of color in the building because they haven’t had one before.

“Being here is about something much bigger than myself.”

That’s one of the many things that keeps me here—knowing that maybe there wasn’t anyone who looked like me in the building before, but for other students, I’m here. I get a lot of people reaching out to me for advice, even people I don’t know. It makes me feel like it’s worth being here, even though sometimes I feel like I could be doing more somewhere else or on a personal level. But being here is about something much bigger than myself.

I make sure they listen to me and follow my directions, and they usually do pretty well. I share my experiences and remind them that I’m just a person like them. If I can experience certain situations on a job site, others are experiencing similar situations. If you can help others not have to go through these experiences alone, that’s great—you’re helping more people. But if we just keep our heads down and only focus on what affects us, we’re not really doing much as a union. 

I tell them that it’s more than just a paycheck; it’s about teamwork. If others aren’t showing up to work, maybe it’s the job site that’s making them uncomfortable. Look at your job site—what is it that might be uncomfortable for people? If you can help those folks out, you make your life and theirs a little easier, and you can make a positive impact.

About Kennitha Wade

IBEW Local 48 Electrician & Daytime Instructor at NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center

Connect with Kennitha on LinkedIn.

About the NECA/IBEW Local 48 Partnership 

The collaboration between the Oregon-Columbia Chapter of NECA and IBEW Local 48 is propelling the electrical industry ahead, focusing on integrity, quality, safety, and professional skill. To learn more about joining us, please check out our membership page.