When Salt Lake City Local 354 member Jared Brydson returned from the IBEW’s International Convention in 2016, he was looking for ideas to increase engagement among new members. Then, he and Business Manager Russ Lamoreaux landed on the idea of a boot camp.

Salt Lake City Local 354’s RENEW chapter is offering boot camps for new members to practice their skills while also learning about the benefits of the union.

“Local 354 is a relatively young local, and we recognized that our future is going to hinge on how active our members are going to be,” said Brydson, who chairs Local 354’s Reach Out and Engage Next Generation Electrical Workers chapter, an IBEW initiative to engage and foster the next generation of union members. “We’re actively trying to create a culture shift in participation.”

Local 354, like a lot of locals, has members coming in through traditional apprenticeships as well as through the construction wireman/construction electrician alternative classifications. Brydson and Lamoreaux decided that one way to bring people together would be to offer a monthly class that lets everyone practice their skills while doubling as a no-pressure space to talk about the union. And there would be food.

“I like that it’s member-operated,” said Zackary Webb, a CW who joined the local in February 2018 and is now an apprentice. “It makes it more easy-going and it creates an atmosphere where everyone’s there for each other. And there’s free donuts.”

Brydson and others teach things like the basics of pipe bending and branch circuit wiring. And fifth-year apprentices studying for their state journeyman tests can come in and practice more complex sections like motor control circuits.

“As a new member to the trade, I felt ill-prepared and out of my element,” said Lodule “Lulu” Lubanga, an apprentice who started as a CW. “But like any diligent student, I saw the boot camp as a resource to bridge the gap of my understanding and piece together the full picture of what to expect on the job and the journeyman exam.”

The monthly boot camps are part of the RENEW committee’s goal to actively engage and educate all new members, Brydson said.

“In my opinion, the key to creating union activists is to get to them early and often,” Brydson said. “By creating a space where new members can ask questions, we’re giving them contacts within the union and we’re fostering relationships with our new members. And by building camaraderie we’re breaking down the barriers between CW/CEs and apprentices, and that makes our union stronger.”

Fostering this next generation starts with a new member orientation run by Brydson that occurs right before the new members’ first union meeting where they take their oath of obligation. Then Brydson notifies members about the boot camps and social events and educational classes. Those notifications are done by stewards and through more modern avenues like text messaging and social media.

“Now more than ever, we get in front of our new members and constantly let them know about the happenings of [Local] 354,” Brydson said.

Having buy-in from Lamoreaux has been a big part of the program’s success, Brydson said.

“It’s helping to break down that intergenerational gap that tends to form between age groups,” Lamoreaux said. “I think it’s an excellent investment in the future of the union.”

Brydson, who is also Local 354’s vice president and an organizer, says the boot camps are primarily for skill-building, but the sense of union solidarity is creating its own muscle memory.

“I’m definitely happy I chose to work union. It’s been a great experience,” Webb said. “I like how organized and comprehensive the schooling is. Plus, I’m making more money than I ever have before.”

Brydson says he’s been in touch with a few sister locals about the boot camps, including Boise, Idaho, Local 291 and Pocatello, Idaho, Local 449.

“I read somewhere that, on average, only 10 percent of union members are active in their union. As trade unionists, our strength comes from our solidarity and our participation. When we grow active and educated members from within, we are securing the future of the local,” Brydson said.