Miller Electric Gives High School Students a Taste of the Trades

Chris and Jeremy edited

This spring, Prefabrication Operations Manager Chris Nightser found himself giving a group of high school students a tour of Miller Electric’s Prefab Shop, and sharing his story of how he ended up pursuing a career in the trades.

It’s something Chris enjoys greatly, but hadn’t been able to do for the past two years due to the pandemic. Now that OPS’ Career Center’s Electrical Pathway program is back in full swing, so are Chris’ ongoing opportunities to showcase how fulfilling an electrical career can be.

A Trades Career Can Provide Direction, Success

“I grew up in a broken home and was a troubled teen. After getting into some trouble in high school, I had some mentors who recognized my mechanical abilities encourage me to get into metalworking,” said Chris. “I spent the first ten years of my career in a metal fabrication shop and then went back to school to become an electrician. That has allowed my wife and I to raise five kids, have a nice life, and a beautiful home, along with hobbies that I enjoy like building fast cars and tinkering in the garage. It also let me go to all of my kids’ school activities as they were growing up.”

Chris likes to tell the kids who visit the Shop as part of Instructor and Electrician Doug Smith’s Electrical Systems Technology class that there was a time he might have been lucky to eat a hot dog for dinner and today it’s a completely different story.

“I have my career as an electrician and with Miller Electric to thank for that,” he said.

Miller Electric Became a Pathway for an MBA

After working at Miller Electric for some time, Chris earned his master’s degree and now manages the commercial electrical contractor’s three prefabrication shops. It’s an accomplishment that makes Chris feel like he’s come full circle from his metalworking days. Though, he still looks back with gratitude on his factory days, primarily for the lessons it taught him about LEAN manufacturing and identifying quicker, faster ways to manufacture items with less waste and increased productivity – something he continues to apply across Miller Electric’s Prefab locations every day.

“I share with the kids that I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I was the first kid in my family to get a college degree and the first to earn my master’s degree. But, I didn’t start out that way. During my senior year of high school I barely earned a 2.0. By the time I was in the Apprenticeship program, I earned straight As, and later, I graduated with my MBA and a 3.995 gpa.

“I like to mentor the kids who visit our Shop to share with them that whether college is on their horizon now or not, starting out in the trades is a great way to earn an excellent living and set yourself up to achieve your career goals down the road.”

Students Learn What a Day in the Prefab Shop at Miller Electric is Like

Chris shares what a typical day is like with students, what tools and materials workers use, along with information about the importance of being on time, working the hours you’re expected to, and working safely.

“We also talked about why it’s important to be educated in electrical construction and how the work is similar on or offsite in the Prefab Shop,” said Chris. “I speak with them about the electrical construction industry and how the opportunities are nearly endless.”

Materials, Tools Extend Students’ Electrical Education

In addition to the hands-on instruction and tours, Chris works with suppliers and Miller Electric to donate materials and other items to the Electrical Pathways program, so the students can use them to further their education.

“Sometimes I get excess materials from suppliers, or from our own shop. One year, we bought wire cutters, strippers and other small tools for classroom exercises. This year, Echo, which is Miller Electric’s largest electrical supplier, was able to supply 1,000 feet of conduit that the students were then able to use to practice bending.”

Program Brings Trades and Community Leaders Together

The Career Center’s Electrical Pathway program is a collaborative effort with IBEW, NECA, Building Omaha and OPS. Students learn the fundamentals of the electrical trade, install electrical fixtures according to blueprints, and complete residential electrical wiring projects. They’re able to experience a classroom/lab environment that provides hands-on instruction while learning about the IBEW and benefits of a union job.

“OPS Career Center is grateful Miller Electric is an involved and supportive partner for our Electrical Pathway,” said Jeremy Nielsen Principal/Program Director of Career Center. “From hosting site visits at the fab shop to donating electrical supplies for training, Chris Nightser and Miller Electric’s collective efforts give students a leg up toward a successful career in the electrical field.”

Chris, who sits on the Advisory Boards for Metro Community College and Westside Schools’ Welding and Fabrication Program, appreciates how industry and community leaders from supply houses, trade contractors, engineers and field service managers come together to provide input, direction and mentoring to students through the program.

“Every now and then, I’ll see a familiar face at Metro, and recognize it’s a student from the OPS program who is continuing to pursue a career in the trades and it’s a highlight for me,” he said. “While a career in the trades isn’t for everybody, it’s a great option for many people and we’d all love to see more young people get interested in working for a trade.”

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about the OPS Career Center’s Electrical Pathways Program, click here.


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