Growing Careers: The G&W Electric Apprentice Program

As a family-owned company operating for more than a hundred years, G&W Electric has built a culture focused on employee success. Much like its customized products, the company uses the same approach by cultivating talent internally. To encourage professional growth, G&W Electric offers a variety of development programs to help employees reach their career goals, from formalized technical and core competency training to internal apprenticeship programs. Launched in 2013, these apprenticeship programs have offered the greatest growth opportunities for employees with diverse backgrounds across the company.


To date, more than 30 employees have participated in the apprenticeship programs in positions such as maintenance, welding fabrications, electrical drafting, and electronic technicians. The programs range from 6 months to 2 years and can include up to 600 hours of training, plus an on-the-job certification program. Along with keeping a reflection journal, apprentices meet as a group and with a program director periodically to receive feedback on their progress to ensure everyone succeeds.

The following employee success stories illustrate the positive impact G&W Electric’s apprentice programs have had on career growth.

Meet Norma

Norma Mankowski has always been interested in inspiring others through her teaching. Born and raised in Mexico, Norma moved to the Chicago area 17 years ago. After 10 years of training employees at a healthcare transportation company, she made the decision to spend more time with her youngest child and became a full-time mom. Once all of her kids were in school, Norma felt the urge to return to her first love: teaching others to succeed. She is also enrolled at Northern Illinois University (NIU) to obtain her teaching license and a degree in Applied Management: Instructional Technology, Training, and Evaluation.

Between balancing being a mother and continuing her education, Norma learned that finding a flexible job could be difficult. As she puts it, “I needed a job with flexibility that allowed me to pursue both passions, teaching and taking care of my family.”

Even though a manufacturing company was something totally new to her (let alone a company that manufactures technical products for power and distribution), Norma applied for a position at G&W Electric and was hired to work the 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. shift for G&W Electric’s Viper internal assembly line.

Norma believed the work/life balance was a perfect fit for her. It allowed her to pick up her kids from school and have dinner with her family before taking her night classes at NIU. “When it comes to family, G&W Electric is very understandable of your time at home,” added Norma.

Even with no prior experience, Norma felt comfortable and reassured, as her supervisor worked side by side, teaching her. After quickly learning the details of the job, Norma’s supervisor recommended she enroll in the company’s Training Within Industry (TWI) introduction course to expand upon her knowledge.

By learning the TWI methodology, the course gave Norma the opportunity to continue her passion by training G&W Electric employees. Following the class, Norma expressed to her leader and supervisor she was interested in the TWI apprenticeship. And once the position became available, Norma felt a strong sense of encouragement and support from her colleagues—her leader assisted her in reviewing the application, and her supervisor congratulated her after she got the position.

“Norma personifies the G&W Electric Apprenticeship program,” said David Jones, Production Manager. “It melds together the apprentice’s passion and aptitudes and matches it with a need within our organization. The result is two-fold; an employee who feels empowered to grow within the company and a company that fulfills its commitment to its customers by delivering the products and services they need to serve their communities.”

After starting the yearlong program in February 2020, Norma worked with engineers to learn more comprehensive details about the internal assembly process of G&W Electric’s Trident switchgear. Already a teacher by nature, Norma’s assembly knowledge improved, allowing her to create an easy step-by-step guide to train and onboard new employees. 

“I am very happy with the team I have around me, they have encouraged me to master a set of tasks and to quickly move on to learn another skill.” Without hesitation, she has taken advantage of other resources offered by G&W Electric to broaden her horizon by participating in courses such as electrical wiring, management, leadership, and more.

Norma shared she believes the apprenticeship program is “a great learning opportunity and huge possibility for growth.” She feels that not only will the apprenticeship prepare you for your next role, but you can also apply the knowledge gained to other areas at G&W Electric. 

Meet Kevin

A native from Chicago, Kevin Lucas has always been interested in math and problem-solving. Growing up, he was part of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) program at his school and eventually graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Continuing his passion in his spare time, Kevin is a math instructor at Mathnasium, a learning center helping kids and young adults K–12 increase math skills, learn math concepts, and enhance overall school performance—all while building confidence and forging a positive attitude toward the subject.

Before joining G&W Electric, Kevin was an applications engineer and a quality control inspector at local engineering firms. After considering several positions at G&W Electric, he decided to be a calibration technician apprentice. Despite the challenges of joining a company during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kevin felt welcomed into the “very professional, yet social culture and positive atmosphere” at G&W Electric.

The early stages of this program included preparation for level one certification for calibration measurement and equipment. This stage of the apprenticeship includes inspecting equipment and tools (power tools, electric sensors, timers, and lasers) used by the quality and assurance teams to calibrate equipment that ultimately builds the products manufactured by G&W Electric.

While Kevin has an engineering degree, there were still several specific techniques and procedures he had to learn. His mentors prepared him by demonstrating techniques needed to perform equipment inspections. For example, learning how to use the right amount of force and speed while making adjustments with a torque wrench is essential to ensure sensors are getting an accurate reading. In the beginning of the apprenticeship, Kevin admits there was a learning curve, but with the help of his mentors, “the more I perfected my practice, the higher quality my work was.”

“Kevin brings his analytical mindset and enthusiasm to work every day,” said Petra Sobczak, ISO Manager. “Finding candidates like Kevin that bring a passion to their job is the perfect complement to our apprenticeship program. It benefits our organization as well as their career development.”

Since joining G&W Electric, Kevin has experienced a clear path to grow his career within the company. “I’m very enthusiastic about what the company calls lattice growth, both for the success of my current position and potential opportunities at G&W Electric moving forward,” said Kevin.

He is also grateful this position allows him to continue his passion. “The apprenticeship program allows you to apply your own work ethic to solve your problems on your own, but there is always someone there to ask for assistance if needed.”

As the apprenticeship program continues, Kevin is looking forward to continuing to function and thrive in his current position and expanding his knowledge by earning his Certified Calibration Technician credentials through the American Society for Quality (ASQ).

Meet Fernando

Beginning his electrical manufacturing career as a forklift driver in 1998, Fernando Mena has always been a quick learner with the determination to consistently climb the company ladder. After only 6 months as a forklift driver at Joslyn Manufacturing, he transferred to the company’s injection molding department. Shortly after, he was approached by the plant manager to take over the cable accessories team.

After Joslyn Manufacturing was purchased by G&W Electric in 2006, the transition to a new process came naturally to him. Fernando took it upon himself to learn everything about G&W Electric. Already working as the team lead, he quickly became the master assembler for the cable accessories department.

Always looking to improve his skill sets and accelerate his career, Fernando decided to take advantage of G&W Electric’s maintenance apprenticeship program. And before the program even began, Fernando took the initiative to do the grunt work within the department, such as changing filters and checking on safety equipment. “You have to do the dirty work in order to get to actually do the real work. It was tough, but I didn’t mind it,” said Fernando.

“Fernando has always been a motivated person who isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and get the job done,” said Moises Guzman, Maintenance Supervisor. “It’s wonderful to see Fernando love the work he does. His attitude is what drives the G&W Electric culture and inspires others to be great.” 

During the apprenticeship program, Fernando mentioned he and his fellow apprentices worked together and shared experiences on how to perform certain tasks. Having such a talented team challenged them to improve their skills and allowed them to finish the program ahead of time.

“The program totally improved all my skillsets associated with maintenance. It’s also helping me achieve my career goals with not only the knowledge on the job, but by leading others in order for us to become a better team,” said Fernando.

More than a year after graduating from the apprentice program, Fernando is looking forward to learning more by taking additional G&W Electric classes and collegiate courses. He’s striving to become a supervisor and working on the morning shift. “Hopefully I can continue to progress my way up to a supervisor where I can lead my own crew of maintenance technicians.”

“The apprentice program has been one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had,” said Fernando. “Not only has it improved my skills, but it has also improved my quality of life by helping me do what I love.”

Kristine has been employed by G&W Electric since 1995. She currently serves as the Training & Operations Support Manager with a vast 25 years of experience in the manufacture of power distribution equipment. Kris is responsible for the Learning & Development programs, including Core Curriculum, Leadership, Training Within Industry (TWI) and Apprenticeships. She is also a member of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) and is a Certified Quality Auditor (CQA) through the American Society for Quality (ASQ).