Kelly Stokes is a daily reminder of the value mentorship and the determination to succeed. And today, the 36-year-old International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1 electrician is the mentor, instilling the drive to succeed in future generations of the IBEW workforce.
Stokes’ first mentor was his mom and she was insightful.
“I grew up kind of geared for electrical work and working with my hands,” said Stokes. “My mother could see it and kept me focused on math and science programs.”
Today, the U.S. strives to improve such skills in the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math. The Electrical Connection, a partnership of IBEW and the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Associations (NECA), has been a leader supporting STEM education. The Electrical Connection is also involved in advancing job creation, development and careers north of Delmar Boulevard.
Stokes’ pathway to an electrical career was one of starts and stops. It began in 1999 as he sought an electrical engineering degree, working days and going to school at night. But making a living became the priority and he would not attain his degree until he graduated from Washington University in 2014. But along the way, something was missing.
“I wanted to fill the gap between electrical systems designed in the office and how they are installed,” said Stokes. So, in 2013 he began apprenticeship training at the award-winning IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center.
From the moment he began the first of 10,000 hours and five years of training, Stokes had launched his career. The training was fully paid for by IBEW/NECA. In fact, as an apprentice he earned a living with benefits and was enrolled in a pension as he learned the trade. And it was during this “earn while you learn” phase of his career that Stokes found more mentors.
NECA contractors PayneCrest Electric and BRK Electric nurtured his skills on the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.
“That was absolutely the best and most daunting project I’ve worked on,” said Stokes. “I climbed 400 feet to help install all the lighting on the bridge, including the beacon lighting. I’m incredibly proud every time I see it brightly lit at night.”
Stokes would also work with PayneCrest on the Taubman Mall in Chesterfield. He was also part of the BRK team working on the SLU Commons dormitory project and the Mel Price Lock and Dam. He continues to work for BRK.
Stokes graduated from the training center last January. Over the past four years, Stokes has been paying his mentorship forward by tutoring younger apprentices. Now, he’s shadowing instructors to learn the nuances of becoming a teacher himself. This May, he’ll capitalize on another training center career development program when he earns his associate degree in construction management from St. Louis Community College.
Determination, conviction and mentoring drove Stokes’ 19-year journey to fully cultivate his skills and he’s still learning. His advice to anyone considering the electrical trade: “Always keep moving forward. Don’t stagnate. And never give up hope. Hope is the only thing that makes tomorrow possible.”
Visit www.electricalconnection.org to learn more about careers with the IBEW/NECA team.
Jim Curran is executive vice president, Electrical Connection and Dennis Gralike is director, IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center.