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Let There Be Light: The Fundamental Value of Technical Skills


Let There Be Light: The Fundamental Value of Technical Skills

Juan Lopez is a member of the Harbor Freight Leadership Lab®, which brings together leaders from across the K-12 skilled trades education ecosystem. The goal for participants is to deliver practical tools for their career advancement, deepen their connection to each other and elevate the sector’s performance, prestige and standing in society. The Harbor Freight Leadership Lab is run by Bendable Labs in partnership with Harbor Freight Tools for Schools®.

Juan serves as the Dean of the School of Advanced Manufacturing, Engineering, and Applied Science at the South Bend-Elkhart Campus of Ivy Tech Community College. He has more than 20 years of academic, leadership, manufacturing and industrial experience.

Juan’s unwavering focus on finding ways to open doors for others to rise to the challenge of building fulfilling and impactful professional lives came in handy recently when his church suffered a major electrical outage. He was kind enough to share the experience and lessons learned in his own words:

Technical skills matter, and it can make an incredible difference in life to be exposed to such skills.  I commend Career and Technical Education professionals everywhere doing the work!

My skilled trades education started early. When I was a young man, my parents and grandparents actively involved me in building two homes and our church. I learned about plumbing, electrical, foundations, roofing, concrete, masonry, safety, planning, budgeting, and commitment. My family provided a great start to my own technical education, which has never stopped. Those days, projects, hands-on skills and lessons working alongside my parents and grandparents were priceless. I’ve carried the philosophy into my own teaching profession.

A few weeks ago, there was a major electrical incident at the church where I volunteer. Thankfully no one was hurt and there was no serious damage to the equipment. But the problems were significant enough that we needed to pull together as a community to get the church repaired and reopened.

The main panel where repairs started

We called in a professional and I got to work alongside him and a group of volunteers for three weeks to get the problem solved. Because of the location of the project and volunteers, we decided to go with the project name “Let There Be Light.” We ended up having to recreate the map of the original wiring, pull out 99 percent of the wiring, and rebuild the entire sanctuary electrical system from the ground up—literally!

A glimpse of where wires were re-mapped in the church’s sanctuary

There were many elements that contributed to the project. The electrical professional supervised, checked, and approved all the work. I contributed by re-engineering the schematics, design, loads, and distribution. A few people with technical background and experience also pitched in, as well as volunteers willing to work hard, get dirty, and learn what we were able to teach during this project. Together, we managed to do things well, get up and running again, and not bankrupt the church.

The church was able to stay open for the students with disabilities that it serves and keep holding services during the tumultuous mess of those three weeks. Had our community not included enough people versed in technical skills and willing to share their ability and time, the renovation would have been an insurmountable expense. People learned new skills and were inspired by their own nascent abilities.

Services taking place during repairs and re-mapping

We imperil our own communities by devaluing fundamental technical abilities. This story could have had a much less happy outcome without the people and experiences built up over the years. This year, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know some amazing CTE leaders around the country through Bendable Labs and the Harbor Freight Leadership Lab. I’m inspired by their passion, dedication, and focus on making sure that the next generation has access to high-quality skills training, and this story is a part of why it’s such important work all over the world.

I’m exhausted, but very proud of the work we came together to do to save our community church. I’m filled with hope for how many more stories like this can grow from utilizing our invaluable and collective trades skills to build a brighter future.