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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Empowering Change: Jeff Lewis’ Journey to a Lighting Maintenance Manager Position

February 20, 2024

Jeff Lewis was comfortable in his lighting maintenance management position, but if he wanted to move up in this company, he needed to stretch himself with education that would prepare him to take the California General Electrician’s Certification Exam – a career game-changer. At 49-years old he had to take his shot now or let go of that vision of rising to the top of his field.

But balancing full-time work and family responsibilities with an intense in as few as 10-month Electrical Technology program was going to add a lot of stress to his life…and dig up some unpleasant memories of high school failures. Could he do it differently this time?


What motivated you to start the education process?

I wanted to move up in the company I’m in where I’m now a Lighting Maintenance Manager. Three Phase Electric is creating a position for me to exercise my new skills and knowledge. I’ve been here a long time and they’re rewarding me with more responsibilities and income, knowing I was preparing for the California General Electrician’s Certification Exam.


What was your first step?

I had to talk to my wife because it’s our money, right? Melissa trusted me immediately and the direction I wanted to take. Becoming a General Electrician would be a game-changer.

I found two electrical programs online. The first school I called responded with a text message. Showed me they didn’t want to put in the effort of a conversation. My second contact was with SJVC. I didn’t know if they would have a strong Electrical Technology (ET) program because they seemed to have mostly medical programs.


How did that call to SJVC’s Temecula campus turn out?

Anna (Admissions Advisor) called and invited me to come to the campus. She showed me around the campus, different labs and introduced me to people who were a part of the ET program. SJVC was more expensive, but the campus was closer, and it seemed to be more involved with communicating and support.

They had a slight edge because personability is pretty important to me. I didn’t feel like just another number. It was pretty quick after the campus visit. Melissa was excited. I was scared.


What were your hesitations and fears?

In high school I was so bad at everything. Now, I just wanted to put forth the effort to be the very best I could be.


Did those good intentions make this education experience better?

On the third day I considered quitting; it was hard. My first class was Technical Math and Electric Circuits, and I was struggling. But during Orientation Mr. Leininger talked about support for students. He said, ‘If you see someone struggling, help lift them up.’ I didn’t understand until I was in that place of struggling.

Students would help me when I struggled; Mrs. Jones is an early intervention tutor for students who gave me guidance on how to approach thought problems and helped me get a better understanding of how to connect the dots. That whole school is full of amazing people ready to assist you. I was able to do the rest of the program on my own, but it was nice to know help was there.


How did your scramble to stay in school change your performance?

There was a pivot after I decided to push harder. I realized I could learn, and my grades started improving. Things just started making sense.

In the beginning you feel so alone, but it doesn’t take long to establish friendships – and then you have that support group. And it’s not only other students rallying around you, it’s the instructors as well.

The school encourages teamwork and leadership among students.


 Did you get the instructor and faculty support you needed?

Mr. Leininger was my toughest teacher, by far. He really stretched me. Every day I would go in there nervous. If I was having trouble with an assignment, he kept working on it with me. And he was more excited than I was when I figured it out. He doesn’t want us going out there (on the job) not knowing what we need to know. He did not want to fail us as an instructor.

Other instructors, like Mr. Shank, would quietly take students aside who might be struggling and give them attention and tools to get back on track to reach their career goals.

And Anna (Admissions Representative) checked on me periodically to make sure the transition to school life was going well. This attitude of caring about student success transcends to every SJVC staff member.


What did you enjoy most in your Electrical Technology program?

The hands-on experience was my favorite. Sometimes you don’t understand why you’re learning something, but then you go into the lab and do it and it suddenly starts making sense. You connect the pieces.

There are so many different classes and specialties. You learn about electrical controls, residential, commercial, industrial wiring, PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers) and pipe bend.


Explain the importance of learning about Programmable Logic Controllers?

It’s a computer’s influence on machinery, managing a lot of technical actions. PLCs are an important advancement – it’s not just one thing. For instance, PLCs can eliminate the person who had to manually push on/off buttons for a conveyor belt or other mechanical operations. It manages a lot of technical actions via computer.


Did you have the family support you needed while in school?

During the entire ten months of this program, I did not have a free weekend at home. It was study, study, study. Melissa absorbed the things I would normally do so that I had time to study and do my schoolwork. She worked full-time and still did my laundry, grocery shopping, cleaned the kitchen. I didn’t get a free ride, but she would try to give me more free time for schoolwork.


What helped you most to successfully complete the ET program?

Faith. We really put God at the forefront of this decision. After that hard third day, it was just stepping out and going forward in faith.


What is the General Electrician’s Certification Exam like?

It is about a 4-hour test and I’m going in there prepared. Electrician certification is a game-changer. It gives you bargaining power for salary increases. You also have to have 8,000 hours in the field to qualify for a Journeyman’s license.


What do you think General Electrician certification will do for your future?

It will reward me with more responsibilities and income. As a graduate of SJVC’s Electrical Technology program I’m considered an apprentice (C-10) level of electrical knowledge and understanding and have the skills and knowledge to troubleshoot and perform the job within safety parameters.


What kind of job prospects can being certified as a General Electrician provide?

Employers are pushing it. We have electricians who are very good but just haven’t taken the test. Our company’s owner is encouraging employees to get certified and have started giving them an hour of work time each day to study for the test.


What does your future hold?

I was recently promoted to Lighting Bids and Contracts Manager where I’m responsible for writing lighting improvement contracts and budgeting the jobs with materials and labor hours. I’ll oversee those jobs from beginning to end. I want to try to stay in this manager role while gaining more electrical experience within this same company. There’s good career advancement right here.


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