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Michael Ryan: Transferring Knowledge

June 30, 2010
Michael Ryan started teaching industrial electricity 26 years ago at Chaffey Community College in California.

Michael Ryan started teaching industrial electricity 26 years ago at Chaffey Community College in California. Now he is training specialist at Southern California Edison and teaches several courses, as well as SCE’s electrical apprentice program.

Ryan became interested in electricity when he watched his father install receptacles in the basement, so when he joined the Air Force after graduating from high school, he chose electrical work. Ryan worked as an electrician, then a lineman, then a maintenance manager. He eventually earned an MBA/TM degree at the University of Phoenix and worked as a “boots on the floor” maintenance manager in paper mills, steel mills and forging industries until 2008. During that time, he developed and trained successful maintenance teams in six sigma processes. He jointed SCE’s power production training department in March 2008.

Ryan continues to develop curriculum at SCE that he feels is necessary to make the electrical apprenticeship successful. His past experience, good or bad, is what he uses to add that personal touch to share with apprentices.

“If you are explaining to a person what a county fair is like, who has never been to one, it can be challenging,” Ryan said. “Without experiencing the smells and tastes of the fair, it is like trying to explain the procedures for performing a circuit breaker inspection to an apprentice who has never been involved with the task.”

Ryan clearly enjoys teaching since he has stayed with it so long and he considers it “transferring knowledge.” The best part of his job, he said, is witnessing electrical apprentices apply their newfound skills.

The SCE electrical apprentice program is a three-year classroom and on-the-job training program. The company delivers modular-type classroom training with competency demonstration. Every six months, the apprentice is given a knowledge-based test and performs a competency demonstration on the five previous modules. Upon satisfactorily completing the test, the student moves to next module.

Ryan will also present Effective Substation Maintenance Training Programs at the 2010 Finepoint Circuit Breaker Test and Maintenance Training Conference on Oct. 7. The session will cover knowledge transfer and the loss of information exchange between the journeyman and the apprentice. What do we do? Where do we start? Who is going to train the apprentice? What skills are the journeyman lacking to perform their jobs safely and efficiently keeping the systems reliable?

Ryan not only teaches technology in his courses, (which have also included NEC, conduit bending, applying personal grounds, and exothermic welding) he also teaches that the most important thing a student can learn is attitude.

“Listening is not natural, it is a skill we develop and with the lack of knowledge transfer in today’s workforce, we all need to check the attitude at the door,” Ryan said. “With limited skillful resources, people are placed in positions today that could be challenging to their training and experience. This could be stressful enough, and then you add to it the other employee who thinks he is smarter. Everyone needs to be tolerant and listen to each other. They do not have to agree, but they must develop the attitude that it’s OK to disagree.”

Ryan emphasizes quality and honesty. “Just because we can, does not mean we should,” he said. “Just because it is out of sight does not mean we install it substandard. Just because we know more than our peers does not mean we should not share our knowledge and experiences.”

He may have been teaching for 26 years, but he took up a new hobby just two years ago: playing the violin. He also enjoys boating on Lake Havasu, Arizona, or riding his quad at Glammas.

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