John Suriano: Maintenance and construction electrician

As an electrician, I contract on my own.

As an electrician, I contract on my own part-time and teach at Humber College the rest of the time. My clients are a mix of industrial and residential. For example, one of my customers is a solar panel manufacturing company. I move equipment from a plant where they’ve purchased materials to their site, help them integrate it and wire it up to their line. For residential work, I help a general contractor move lights, add lights and do other tasks related to electrical renovations on people’s houses.

I started off in the military. I came out after three years and went to Humber’s construction and maintenance electrician program.

In the military, I wanted to be an avionics technician, but that wasn’t available so I asked if I could do something else along those lines. They said they had room for an electrical distribution technician, which worked out well for me.

Before enlisting, I was going to college for electronics and installing kitchens in the summertime, so I had a sense of what the construction world was about. I was interested in mobile electronics and cars in high school. What deterred me from continuing was seeing a newspaper ad for an electronics technician that said “starting at $10 per hour.” I was making more installing kitchens, so I was discouraged. I also wanted to get out of my house, so I went the military route.

Distribution techs pretty much work as military electricians. I passed the aptitude test, did my training in New Brunswick and got my first posting in Quebec City. I lived there for a few years and did cross-training with the Ministry of Transportation at Jean Lesage International Airport, because we also had to be experienced in runway lighting. We did street lighting as well.

When my three-year contract was up, I came back, got a job in an automotive plant working on robots, lasers, presses – all sorts of automated stuff. In 2008 when everything in the United States was going belly up, I started travelling around the U.S. for our company, which was buying equipment for pennies on the dollar. We refurbished equipment, packaged it up and sent it to Mexico.

The interaction with the teachers at Humber was important. If you didn’t quite understand something about instrumentation or code, they were great about answering questions on the spot or getting back to you. They helped build my confidence by showing me that if I didn’t have an answer, there was a way to get it. More than the equipment, the teachers prepared me for my job now.

The changes are pretty fast and furious in this field. For example, in the housing industry you have smart homes coming on to the market and getting a little bit more affordable. Humber just started offering courses in home automation and networking. On the industrial front, there is a teacher at Humber who has taken the reins and purchased a lot of the newest technology in the industrial field.

I enjoy travelling day-to-day for the job. I’ve been lucky that I haven’t just been that guy who runs pipe and conduit all the time. It’s not the same thing every day – it’s not just a 7-to-3-o’clock shift.

Sometimes I get called in at 3 am and I’ll grunt about it, but looking back I usually have enjoyed it. The best experiences on the job are also the worst. Sure, it’s not fun getting woken up at 3 am and having to do shift work rotations. I did that for seven or eight years. But I took all the shifts because I was interested in learning.

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