Leadership Spotlight: Grant Shmelzer

April 28, 2014

Grant Shmelzer, a member of National Skills Coalition’s (NSC) Leadership Council, is the Executive Director of IEC Chesapeake (IECC), and he works with the Board of Directors to run both IECC and IEC Chesapeake Apprenticeship and Training, Inc. 

Grant has been actively involved with NSC for more than three years. In the interview below, he discusses his interest in the workforce development field, his leadership role with NSC, and how his involvement has helped to advance both the NSC agenda and his work in Maryland.

How is IECC involved in developing a skilled workforce for the electrical industry?

IECC is one of the largest chapters of the Independent Electrical Contractors Association. It includes more than 150 contractors and industry partners representing more than 10,000 men and women in all facets of the electrical and HVAC industries. IECC’s strong infrastructure and relationships with other organizations and community colleges allows us to provide advanced, hands-on education and additional resources to members as far north as Philadelphia, and as far south as Virginia. Some benefits of IECC membership include access to assistance with apprenticeships, safety training, continuing education and networking opportunities.

IECC also works with Job Corps. The Woodland Job Corps Center’s electrical program is housed at our training center in partnership with Anne Arundel Community College, and has been for about a decade. The program has the highest completion and job placement rate. It’s nice to have a living, breathing workforce initiative that you can use to try out new strategies to see what is most successful. It also serves as a tremendous opportunity for the students because we have employers who are looking to hire coming through the facility on a regular basis.

How did you get involved in workforce development?

Part of my job is to recruit people into the electric industry. Growing up the son of a teacher who actually worked in underprivileged areas – and she did it because she loved it – that rubbed off on me. It’s a great feeling to be able to reach out to people who really want and need these opportunities and match up their skill sets with a potential job. 

When did you first get involved with National Skills Coalition?

Eric Seleznow [former NSC State Policy Director] helped get me involved about three years ago. Eric was seeking to grow the presence of Maryland companies within NSC’s network, and he and I have worked together on the Governor’s Workforce Investment Board. We came into contact as a result of the labor shortages in the construction trades because I was at the time and still do sit on the Maryland State Apprenticeship Council.

Why should other people in similar roles get more involved in advocating for a skills agenda?

In my opinion, those that are running trade associations or labor unions are driven by the need and desire of our members to be successful. In the skilled construction trades, individuals need to have training in order for the businesses to be successful. At the end of the day, it is your investment in your people that matters.

At this year’s Skills Summit, you won the “Taking Care of Business” award for your work with employer advocates. Why should employers become more engaged in advocating a skills agenda and what strategies do you use to get them involved?

The workforce community needs to build a case for the skills agenda through the investment of time and/or money by businesses to continue to educate and train their workforce. However, I will also say it’s about existing employees and potential employees recognizing that it is a cycle of lifelong learning. If you don’t educate yourself in your career, you limit your growth potential. Both employers and employees need to take ownership and recognize that they need to continue their education because just about every industry is changing rapidly. 

You are a member of the NSC Leadership Council. What encouraged you to engage at such a meaningful level, and why should others consider doing so?

It made sense for me because I do sit on the State Apprenticeship Council and apprenticeships right now are gaining attention on the national agenda. It is just so rewarding to look back at somebody who’s come to you with limited or no skill sets and you’ve worked with them to give them a skill set that enables them to go out and get a job. Four years later they come back and they’re a licensed electrician. It’s very rewarding getting to see the fruits of your labor from helping them. For me, it’s a nice, natural tie-in to be able to do something good, do my job, and help an industry that is continuing to lose people (due to retirement, etc.) with not enough people entering into the industry for employment. 

How has your involvement with NSC helped to advance your work?

There are two big benefits that I’ve experienced from working with NSC. The first one is sharing best practices from around the country, and not having to reinvent the wheel. Borrowing ideas, having sounding boards, and learning why things work in some areas and don’t work in other areas has been a tremendous opportunity. 

The second is the political side of the organization where people from different political and philosophical backgrounds are coming together with a common goal of solving skilled labor shortages, how we address it, and matching the unemployed with jobs and getting them the training that’s needed. 

How does your involvement help advance the work of NSC?

I am one chapter within the IEC family. In several different areas where NSC is not as strong as it would like, I’ve been able to reach out within my network to other chapters and other members of the organization throughout the country where NSC has needed support.