Keck Observatory launches new electrician apprenticeship program for Hawaiʻi Community College students
W.M. Keck Observatory is offering a first-of-its-kind experience for budding electricians on the Big Island.
In collaboration with Hawaiʻi Community College, Keck has launched a new apprenticeship program for kamaʻāina students pursuing a career as licensed electricians. The three-year pilot program, developed by Keck Observatory lead electrician/infrastructure technician and HCC Electrical Installation and Maintenance Technology Program alumnus Jerez Tehero of Hilo, provides highly specialized technical training and commercial work experience to students enrolled in the college’s electrical program.
Tehero, an Electrical Installation and Maintenance Technology Program alumnus, came up with the idea after being inspired by the Kamaʻāina Connections Program, of which he is a member. The program is a leadership development initiative centered in Hawaiʻi values and cultural perspectives that supports kamaʻāina Maunakea Observatories staff.
He developed the vision and framework for the apprenticeship to create more workforce development opportunities for the Hawaiʻi Island community. The necessary hours of commercial and industrial electrician training are difficult to fulfill for Big Island students because of the limited number of companies that perform the work on the island.
“Living in Hawaiʻi, on the Big Island especially, we don’t have a lot of opportunities to gain electrical experience on commercial industrial installations,” Tehero said in a press release. “When I was working my way up the trade, I struggled to figure out how to get my requisite licensing hours done. Fortunately, I was able to earn my commercial industrial hours working for the Hawaiʻi County Traffic Division. But not everyone has that opportunity, so I wanted to create a career pathway designed to give students an opportunity they may not otherwise get.”
Hilo High School alum Evan Ida of Hilo is the first HCC electrician student selected for the new apprenticeship and began working at the observatory in July last year. He will shadow Tehero for about 600 hours to develop a firm understanding of commercial and industrial electrical automation systems before graduating this year. Those hours will count toward the required 10,000 electrical work hours needed to become a licensed journeyman electrician in Hawaiʻi.
“The work experience at Keck Observatory is amazing,” Ida said in the press release. “I spent the summer working with a residential electrical company in Hilo and that was great, I learned a lot. What I’ve been learning at Keck allows me to level up — it’s a whole different ball game.”
With safety the top priority, Ida received fall prevention and arc flash safety training before beginning onsite work at Keck’s telescope facility on Maunakea. Once he completes the required hours, Ida will also be eligible for the program’s tuition reimbursement to cover his second year in the HCC Electrical Installation and Maintenance Technology Program.
“This apprenticeship is exciting,” HCC electricity instructor Patrick Pajo, who also works as an electrical contractor, said in the press release. “During my 40-plus-year career, I’ve seen the industry change from using analog to digital controllers to automate electro-mechanical systems. The electrician apprenticeship allows my students to learn basic but important principles using the analog equipment at Hawaiʻi Community College, then advance their knowledge working with the newest, most modern digital technology at Keck Observatory.”
Pajo’s career has come full circle. In the early 1990s, he worked on the construction of the Keck II telescope, installing electrical controllers. Three decades later, four of his past and present students are working at the observatory: Ida, Tehero, electrician/infrastructure technician Hamza Elwir and facilities maintenance and support technician Shawn Tapang
“I’m really grateful for this opportunity. It’s been so much more than I had expected it to be,” Ida said in the press release. “One of the things I really enjoy about working on the mountain is that everyone up there at Keck is so willing to share their knowledge and expertise and help each other out.”
“It feels awesome to be a part of a program where I can reach out to other kamaʻāina and guide them towards the right avenues to help them succeed,” Tehero said in the press release.