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Five people standing outside Keck Observatory
Jerez Tehero (far right) giving Patrick Pajo (far left) and several of his students a tour of Keck Observatory’s telescope facility on Maunakea

Hawaiʻi Community College and W. M. Keck Observatory are collaborating on a new licensed electrician apprenticeship program for kamaʻāina (Hawaiʻi residents). The three-year pilot program provides highly specialized technical training and commercial work experience to students enrolled in Hawaiʻi CC’s Electrical Installation and Maintenance Technology (EIMT) program.

The Keck Observatory electrician apprenticeship program is the first of its kind; Hawaiʻi CC EIMT alumnus Jerez Tehero of Hilo came up with the idea after being inspired by the Kamaʻāina Connections Program (KCP)—a leadership development initiative centered in Hawaiʻi values and cultural perspectives that supports kamaʻāina Maunakea Observatories staff. Tehero, a KCP member, developed the vision and framework for the apprenticeship to create more workforce development opportunities for the local community.

“Living in Hawaiʻi, on the Big Island especially, we don’t have a lot of opportunities to gain electrical experience on commercial industrial installations,” said Tehero, who is currently the Keck Observatory lead electrician/infrastructure technician.

“When I was working my way up the trade, I struggled to figure out how to get my requisite licensing hours done,” he said. “Fortunately, I was able to earn my commercial industrial hours working for the Hawaiʻi County Traffic Division. But not everyone has that opportunity, so I wanted to create a career pathway designed to give students an opportunity they may not otherwise get.”

Valuable hours of experience

Student in hi-viz vest and hard hat working on an electrical panel
Evan Ida

Evan Ida, a Hilo High School alum, was the very first Hawaiʻi CC student selected. He began the apprenticeship in July 2022 and will shadow Tehero, a supervising electrician, for about 600 hours until he graduates in May 2023 to develop a firm understanding of commercial and industrial electrical automation systems. These valuable hours will count toward the required 10,000 electrical work hours needed to become a licensed journeyman electrician in the State of Hawaiʻi, part of which includes commercial and industrial hours that are difficult to fulfill with the limited number of companies that perform this type of work on Hawaiʻi Island.

“The work experience at Keck Observatory is amazing,” Ida said. “I spent the summer working with a residential electrical company in Hilo and that was great, I learned a lot. What I’ve been learning at Keck allows me to level up—it’s a whole different ballgame.”

With safety a foremost priority, Ida received fall prevention and arc flash safety training before beginning on-site work at Keck Observatory’s telescope facility on Maunakea. Once he completes the required hours, Ida will be eligible for the program’s tuition reimbursement to cover his second year in the Hawaiʻi CC EIMT program.

Modern skills for a modern industry

“This apprenticeship is exciting,” said Hawaiʻi CC Electricity Instructor Patrick Pajo, who also works as an electrical contractor. “During my 40-plus year career, I’ve seen the industry change from using analog to digital controllers to automate electro-mechanical systems. The electrician apprenticeship allows my students to learn basic but important principles using the analog equipment at Hawaiʻi CC, then advance their knowledge working with the newest, most modern digital technology at Keck Observatory.”

Pajo added his career has come full circle. In the early 1990s, he worked on the construction of the Keck II telescope, installing electrical controllers. Three decades later, four of his students are now working at the observatory: Hawaiʻi CC EIMT graduates Tehero, Electrician/Infrastructure Technician Hamza Elwir, and Facilities Maintenance and Support Technician Shawn Tapang, as well as current student Ida.

“I’m really grateful for this opportunity. It’s been so much more than I had expected it to be,” Ida said. “One of the things I really enjoy about working on the mountain is that everyone up there at Keck is so willing to share their knowledge and expertise and help each other out.”

Learn more about the licensed electrician apprenticeship program.

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