W. M. Keck Observatory Launches Electrician Apprenticeship Program for Hawaiʻi Community College Students
Maunakea, Hawaiʻi Island — W. M. Keck Observatory in collaboration with Hawaiʻi Community College is excited to announce a new apprenticeship program for kamaʻāina students pursuing a career as licensed electricians. The three-year pilot program provides highly specialized technical training and commercial work experience to students enrolled in Hawaiʻi Community College’s Electrical Installation and Maintenance Technology (EIMT) program.
“Living in Hawaiʻi, on the Big Island especially, we don’t have a lot of opportunities to gain electrical experience on commercial industrial installations,” said Keck Observatory Lead Electrician/Infrastructure Technician and Hawaiʻi Community College EIMT alumnus Jerez Tehero of Hilo. “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 native Evan Ida, a Hilo High School alum, is the very first Hawaiʻi Community College electrician student selected via an application process; he began the apprenticeship in July 2022 and will shadow Tehero, a Supervising Electrician, for about 600 hours until he graduates in May 2023 to develop a firm understanding of commercial and industrial electrical automation systems. These valuable hours will count towards the required 10,000 electrical work hours needed to become a licensed journeyman electrician in the State of Hawaiʻi, part of which includes commercial and industrial hours that are difficult to fulfill with limited companies that perform this type of work on Hawaiʻi Island.
“The work experience at Keck Observatory is amazing,” Ida said. “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 ballgame.”
With safety a foremost priority, Ida received fall prevention and arc flash safety training before beginning on-site work at Keck Observatory’s telescope facility on Maunakea. Once he completes the required hours, Ida will be eligible for the program’s tuition reimbursement to cover his second year in the Hawaiʻi Community College EIMT program.
“This apprenticeship is exciting,” said Hawaiʻi Community College Electricity Instructor Patrick Pajo, who also works as an electrical contractor. “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 adds his career has come full circle; in the early 1990s, Pajo worked on the construction of the Keck II telescope, installing electrical controllers. Three decades later, four of his students are now working at the Observatory: Hawaiʻi Community College EIMT graduates Tehero, Electrician/Infrastructure Technician Hamza Elwir, and Facilities Maintenance and Support Technician Shawn Tapang, as well as current student Ida.
“I’m really grateful for this opportunity. It’s been so much more than I had expected it to be,” Ida said. “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.”
The Keck Observatory electrician apprenticeship program is the first of its kind; Tehero came up with the idea after being inspired by the Kamaʻāina Connections Program (KCP)—a leadership development initiative centered in Hawaiʻi values and cultural perspectives that supports kamaʻāina Maunakea Observatories staff. Tehero, a KCP member, developed the vision and framework for the apprenticeship to create more workforce development opportunities for the local community.
“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.
The W. M. Keck Observatory Electrician Apprenticeship Program is made possible thanks to the generous support of Thomas Blackburn and the William M. Keck, Jr. Foundation.
ABOUT W. M. KECK OBSERVATORY
The W. M. Keck Observatory telescopes are among the most scientifically productive on Earth. The two 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes atop Maunakea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrometers, and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems. Keck Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Observatory was made possible by the generous financial support of the W. M. Keck Foundation. The authors wish to recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that the summit of Maunakea has always had within the Native Hawaiian community. We are most fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain.