Despite disability, California student graduates into ranks of in-demand electricians

580 200 Ed Coghlan

(Photo Credit: Los Angeles Trade-Technical College)

When Erwin Elenes graduated from Los Angeles Trade-Technical College this month with a certificate in its electrical program, it was quite an accomplishment.

That’s because Erwin Elenes can’t hear. He contracted chicken pox when he was 10 months old and his hearing has been severely impaired ever since.

And his journey to earning his electrical certificate wasn’t a straight line. The 34-year-old, married father of two formerly worked as a parking enforcement officer at Cerritos College and then was a full-time dad before he made the big career decision to join the electrician program at LATTC.

Elenes traces his fascination to electricity to the 5th grade. He played by conducting the experiment of setting up parallel and series circuits using 9V batteries connected to tiny light bulbs.

His eventual choice to become an electrician was a smart move. The lack of qualified electricians as baby boomers retire is one of the many lucrative areas of opportunity available to Californians. The California Economic Summit has identified the challenge of filling one million middle-skill jobs in California as critical to the state’s ability to sustain its robust economy and help more people get into the middle class.

Instructor Ron Jackson praised Elenes for surviving what he describes as an “arduous” program.

“There are many students who struggle with the concepts and the regulations,” Jackson said. “For Erwin with his hearing, capturing and applying all of that information, it is even more arduous. Not everyone makes it through the course. Through sheer tenacity he completed it.“

When Elenes needed help, he turned to the Disabled Student Programs and Services available at the Los Angeles Community College District. In an email interview with he praised his counselor.

“Jamila Guerrero-Cantor is doing fantastic job! She knew exactly what I needed and what my weaknesses were. She would give me pointers and was a great help.”

He emphasized that, due to budget restraints, he didn’t always have the same interpreters available to him during his course work, which he thinks administrators should address for other hard-of-hearing students.

“It is always a challenge for having interpreters because there is no formal sign language for electrical terms we use in daily conversations,” said Elenes. “So, we had to come up with creative signings.”

Elenes also received some help from a fellow student. Joel Gomez and Elenes were taking the same courses over the past two years. Gomez had some facility in sign language, which he improved to help Elenes succeed. Elenes was very grateful.

“Sometime when I was clueless and he explained to me and helped me solve the challenge.”

For LATTC President Larry Frank, the successful journey of Erwin Elenes is why his community college is in business.

“Los Angeles Trade-Technical College provides career-technical training to fulfill this region’s demands for a highly-skilled workforce,” Frank said. “Trade Tech welcomes all students, and gives each of them a chance to succeed.”

For an instructor like Jackson, Elenes' success means one thing: He's ready for a job.

“My job is to prepare all students for the work place and the work environment,” said Jackson. “We want every student to know what they will face out there on the job. The success of all of my students is the great reward of teaching.”

And what will Erwin Elenes do next?

First he is going to spend some time with his wife and children who “inspire” him every day.

Second, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) should be expecting a call later this summer. Elenes said he will join the union and begin to compete for jobs.


Ed Coghlan

All stories by: Ed Coghlan