‘Elm University’: Elm Electrical starts summer program for high school students


WESTFIELD — Seventeen-year-old Dakota Pandolfini, of Southampton, says she wants to chase storms as a utility line crew member, heading in after a big storm to get the lights back on.

Pandolfini, heading into her senior year at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton, got the lights to switch on this week at Elm Electrical’s training center in Westfield, the first student out of a class of seven to finish her wiring project three times and do it to the satisfaction of Elm Electrical senior project manager Paul Asselin.

“When she starts working, look out,” Asselin said.

Elm Electrical, an automation, construction and electrical services provider founded in 1971, started this year with a new program for high school-age students interested in the electrical field calling it — only half jokingly — Elm University.

Students spend 28 yours over four days, half in the classroom and half doing hands-on work with the tools of their trade.

Five students took the course last week and seven in this week’s final session. They use the same training center Elm uses for its employees and for the student employees in Elm’s in-house apprenticeship program.

Elm is offering the high-school program partially as a community service and partially to replenish its roster of electricians.

“You can’t find any,” Asselin said. “Ask anybody in the trades. It’s supply and demand, and there is no supply.”

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says that as of 2021 the median wages for an electrician in Massachusetts were $68,000 to $83,000 a year.

The 10th to 12th graders were recommended by their teachers or Elm employees. Some are from vocational schools but others are not.

Asselin said students who are in a vocational electrical program already have a leg up, but the students who are getting their first exposure are catching up.

Some, like Pandolfini, have worked for Elm. She said she worked in the panel shop, building electrical equipment for machinery.

The class wrapped up Thursday, Asselin said, with plans for students to wire a three way switch to a light. That’s a setup that lets a homeowner turn the ceiling light on or off from one of three wall switches.

“It gives some people trouble,” Asselin said.

A veteran of the business, Asselin can point out details in the student work that might escape notice.

The light switch, for example, will work if the little screw-on wire caps are facing down with open ends facing up.

But what happens if someone sprays water in and it gets in the outlet, Asselin asked.

“I’ve been on enough jobs, I’ve seen cases where water has gotten in there and caused corrosion,” he said.

It’ll work if the little clips that hold the wiring to the wall are on top, not the bottom.

“Those clips will hold up the wire, but what if someone pushes down on it,” he said. “I’ve been on so many jobs. I’ve seen where things go wrong. It’s all little tips that journeymen have pointed out to me over the years.”

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